Paddlers at the Balmy Beach Canoe Club celebrated two of their own last week after kayakers Kathleen Fraser and Sam Roworth won second- and third-place finishes at recent World Cup races in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In the two-person, 500-metre race – an Olympic event – Fraser and partner Genevieve Beauchesne-Sévigny took second in Poland and third in the Czech Republic.
“Our goal in this race was just to relax, and not to go all-out off the start,” said Fraser. “We stuck to the plan every race and it worked out perfectly.”
Fraser hopes that their results – the best by a Canadian women’s team in that event for at least a decade – will inspire others on the national team.
“I’m happy that the girls are coming up,” she said. “I hope it gives them the confidence to say, ‘Yeah – we can get there’.”
To Fraser’s finishes, Sam Roworth and the four-person men’s kayak team added a supreme one for the cameras.
In the 1,000-metre race in Poland, their boat nosed past the Polish team’s by three inches – a mere 24 thousandths of a second on the clock.
For Roworth and Fraser, Poland was their second World Cup race in as many weeks and their last event before Canada’s final qualifier for the senior World Cup teams at the end of June.
“They are very dedicated paddlers,” says Balmy Beach coach Peter Martinek. “Hopefully they will make the next Olympic Games.”
Olympics or not, training athletes on Canada’s national team and sending them to World Cup events shows the high-performance program at Balmy Beach rising to a level not seen since its members won Olympic titles in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.
Martinek, who won a Canoe Kayak Canada award for club development in 2010, is a big part of that shift.
Born in Hungary, Martinek got an early start coaching, starting soon after he finished a physical education degree in Budapest. Over his 36-year career, Martinek has coached national teams in Hungary, Greece and Denmark.
As the only kayak club within Toronto city limits, Martinek says Balmy Beach has its challenges. The 20 paddlers in the club’s high-performance group have to be early birds.
“If the water is calm we can go out and paddle, but that’s very rare and usually only in the early morning,” he said.
The club’s most accessible stretch of protected water is the 500-metre length of Ashbridges Bay.
“If you’re doing a 15 or 20 km paddle and you’re turning every 500 metres, that’s when it gets a little tedious,” says Roworth. “But once you’re used to it, it’s fine.”
Even with that make-it-work attitude, Roworth and the nearly 200 members of the Balmy Beach Club are excited about a new Trillium Grant that will cover the cost of a new club truck and 36 new boats.
The truck will make it easier to get paddlers out to nearby Ontario Place, the Humber River and the Welland Canal to train, he said, while most of the new boats are smaller, stabler kayaks for kids and some much-needed canoes.
“It’s really built up,” Roworth said of the Balmy Beach as a whole.
“Everybody I’m training with, except for maybe one or two people – I coached when they were kids.”
“You always look up to the people that coach you, and then you end up being training partners with them,” he added. “You’re pushing them and they’re pushing you – it’s a pretty cool dynamic that happens here.”