November 14, 2016

Quality over quantity.

A few days ago, I received an award from Canoe Kayak BC for being the top para canoe/kayak athlete in the province for 2016. It feels pretty good. Really good, actually. 

The plaque says: "success is not limited by one's abilities."
As mentioned before on this blog, I’m not much one to receive accolades. I do what I do because I love to participate. I do not do it for reward. This is generally true of any pursuit of happiness in my life. And, in the specific case of para canoe/kayak, I do it to try and bring some awareness to what is a relatively new discipline. When an award becomes a bi-product of my involvement and engagement with a particular activity, that’s awesome.

I digress. So, the other night after winning my award I posted a picture of me with the plaque I won. I got great response from it—more than I expected I would, actually. Thanks for that, gentle readers!

I also got some side comments, as I have before about this discipline within this sport, and it’s high time I get something off my chest. It shouldn’t bug me, because as I said, I do what I do because I love doing it, and that’s enough. But I’m only human, and if I hear enough of one thing, it’s sure to bug the ever-lovin’ crap out of me.

The comments come out in different ways, but always carry the same meaning: you’re being rewarded because there’s no one to compete against.

Let’s educate the masses, shall we?

I got my name on something!! 
High performance sport is, in general, a lonely world. Whereas you can find a decent chunk of the population participating in sport generally, only a small percentage of those folks are engaged at a high level (by high level/ high performance, I mean ‘requiring highly-specialized coaching, facilities, athlete services and direct financial support’, such as amateur national-level or Olympics-bound competitors, for example). Thus, the percentage of people in all of Canada engaged in high performance sport, as a percentage of the population, is small (thank you, captain obvious).

NOW, for perspective on the para sport world: in Canada, an estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians (This study relates 'adult' as age 15 or older) reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012. This represents 13.7% of the adult population. (source, stats Canada)

Here’s the math. If that 13.7 per cent chunk of Canada’s population is 100 per cent of the nation’s population living with a disability, and only a small per cent of THAT chunk of the population engaging in high-performance sport, you’re looking at a VERY small pool of disabled people either willing or even able to come out and participate. It is a minuscule fraction of the population. Based on all that, I don’t disagree with people who recognize that when I race para canoe/kayak,  I race fewer people. it's just a statistical reality that this will be the case, and you cannot get blood from a teeny, tiny stone.

Do I like it that way? Of course I would prefer it if there were throngs of competitors. And, as you move up the food chain, there are more and more people to race against. National and international pools are respectively larger. But locally/provincially, no, there aren’t many people to compete against. It varies from province to province and sport to sport, but overall, competitor numbers are fewer in para-sport compared to able-bodied sport.

Back to the question of ‘yeah, but do you have anyone to compete against?’ Part of my answer to this is all that stuff as stated above, and of course I would prefer a deep pool of competitors.

But here's the thrust of it:  I don’t require a deep pool of competitors to push MYSELF as hard as I can. Sure, we all like drinking the sweet champagne of victory from the skulls of defeated foes, but it's really not a driving factor for me.  

There are time standards to measure performance, whether there are one, two, three, 18 or 27 people on the race card. No one is handing me cheques if I come first, if I don’t make a certain time standard to go with it. If I go to national team trials (as I have) and if there’s only a few people vying for a team spot (as has been the case), and if I win the race (as has happened) BUT I don’t make a time standard (as has also happened), guess what? I’m not representing Canada. It’s not as though someone says ‘You won! Go represent us!’ You still have to measure up, as is only right.

And in the last year, I. Measured. Up. And for that, my provincial sport organization recognized me. 

The next time someone wants to ask ‘yeah, congrats, but who are you competing against’, I may smirk at you because I have nothing clever or concise to say in the moment, but know that my answer is this:
Congratulate me for why I am competing, not for whom I am doing so against.  
Congratulate me for being representative of others who currently face too many barriers to sport.
Congratulate me for bringing awareness, and hopefully encouraging others to try it out. 

Most of all, when it comes down to me and my paddling: ask yourself, is this a question I would ask of an able-bodied athlete? Then, do as you would for said able bodied athlete: congratulate me for the length of the course, not the width of the lake on which I race.

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