Tomorrow I’ll be starting the NFCT with Marc Creamer, head coach at PCCC and brother to Coach Mike. He’ll be with me for the first 90 miles, then it’s solo time until near the end of the trip when my best bud Matt should be joining me for the last week or so. Like on Aconcagua I’ll have my SPOT GPS going, and, I expect, much like on Aconcagua, it’ll work sporadically. Regardless, here’s a link to my spot page: Spot Map, so you can follow along, I hope.
I’ll be tweeting when I can, and sharing pictures that way as well.
If you’re on the trail and happen to see the boat below being paddled by a forlorn and hungry looking man, accompanied by a piebald miniature dachshund with a desperate, ‘please take me home,’ look in her eye, please say hello.
So I mentioned in a previous post that I was doing this little paddling trip in May and June, and that I would provide some updates. Here is an update:
The trip is set to begin on May 15th with an early drive to Old Forge, NY followed by the first miles on the water. I’m hoping for the roughly 1200km trip to take around 30 days, but as Al Swearengen from Deadwood said “Announcin’ your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.” In other words, I expect there to be some delays.
I’ve got most of my gear organized and everything should fit nicely into my massive dry bag from MEC (pictured below.) That streak of brown and white is Liesl, my miniature dachshund, who will be joining me for the trip (Una is not as convinced as I am L will enjoy herself…). So far I’ve got two confirmed companions, other than L, that will help to start the trip off. Hopefully a few more will join for the second half…Matt…..Mitch….
I’ve also got together about 90% of my food, and some other essentials I needed like rope and a new tarp. (yes, food and rope and a tarp are of equal importance when you like gear.)
I’ve been going over the 13 maps making rough plans for where I’ll camp…etc. Leaving plenty of room for eventualities. It took Odysseus ten years after all.
Finally, the one essential item on a canoe trip: the canoe.
I’ll be picking up my boat from H20 this Friday at Frontenac Outfitters in Kingston, ON. If you’re in the area or up for a drive I suggest getting your self to Frontenac Outfitters over the weekend. It’s their annual spring sale and open house. You can test boats and gear, and get a great deal. I’ll have plenty of pics of the boat up soon. I expect it’ll be fast enough that I’ll want to make an appearance in the Men’s C1-1000m at trails 1 in Montreal…though I think I’m too late to register. Damn.
Anyway that’s it for now. Pics of the boat will be up ASAP as well as more details and links to my SPOT page so you can follow my progress.
Since my last post a few things have happened that I think are worth mentioning. The two biggest are: That I’ll starting a Masters of Journalism at Carleton University next fall—yes, I’m finally moving to Ottawa—and that I’ll be going on another adventure this summer.
Journalism: Without reprinting my letter of intent here’s why: I’ve dealt with journalist since my mid-teens (all positive interactions), and many of my favorite authors and thinkers were/are journalists. Apart from what I think are prerequisite ideas about truth, transparency, and the ever-growing need to reflect on our role in a democracy, I was drawn to journalism because of the variety of options within the field, and the potential to effect change.
To try and gain some experience I’ve been doing profiles for Sportcafe.ca—which I’m going to update now that the semester is finally done—and, I’m also lucky to be doing some work for the website of Canoe & Kayak Magazine, canoekayak.com. Over the next few months I plan to make some changes in this site to reflect the changes in my life, so stay tuned!
Adventure: My faithful, biannual, readers will recall that in December 2010 I made a solo bid to climb Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas. I made it thousands of feet higher than I had ever been, but due to some health issues I turned back. Now I’m going with a medium of adventure I’m more familiar with, the canoe. I’m in the midst of preparations for a May-June paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
The NFCT is about 1200km long and stretches from Old Forge, New York to the Maine-New Brunswick border near Edmundston. Apart from Liesl, my miniature dachshund, I hope to have some partners for some sections of the trip. I’ll be going light and fast in a canoe graciously provided by Jeff Hill from H20 Paddlesport Inc. a Canadian boat manufacturer based in Tavistock, Ontario.
I contacted Jeff a few months ago, explaining the trip and what I was looking for and said he could help me. Please take a moment to check out H20’s website and Facebook page. I’ll have pictures of the boat soon.
If you’re wondering why I’m doing this, the obvious answer is because it looks fun. The less obvious answers are because I like a challenge, and I have the time right now and I may not later. The least obvious answer is that I feel like by focusing on sprint for so many years I didn’t have a chance to spend the time I’d have liked to in a traditional canoe. Coach Mike and I have made occasional short trips—the last one was roughly 60% portaging, I’m now convinced it was a training exercise—but never anything long enough to settle into the ancient rhythm of a canoe stroke and disengage from “the real world.” While I have the freedom, I’m going to enjoy it.
I’ll have some more trip posts up soon, with more links, photos, maps…etc.
Thanks for reading!
A member of the Canadian sprint canoe kayak family died yesterday. I didn’t know John Wood very well, but he was kind and encouraging to a younger me and sincere in his congratulations after Beijing. I wrote a piece about legacies after Mark Oldershaw won his Olympic medal, and John will always be an important part of the canoe legacy in Canada.
Another important part of that legacy is Steve Giles; who had a profound influence on my generation of canoers and kayakers. Steve wrote this blog about John, I encourage you to read it and watch the video.
Young paddlers racing this year, whether for world championship titles or peewee glory, are building on what has happened before. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, each adding something to the community. John inspired generations of paddlers and his legend will continue to inspire for years to come.
There has been a lot of discusion in the canoe kayak community regarding the recent ICF decisions on women’s C1 at the Olympics. I was angry, disappointed and embarrassed by the ICF’s decision. I want to offer my support to the women canoers hurt by this move.
I do, however, want to mention something that has been bothering me about this discussion. I can’t help but feel there is something dangerous about me, and other men, weighing in on the various specific arguments for or against women racing sprint canoe at the Olympics. It’s patronizing, and there is a nasty whiff of bigotry and/or ignorance in some of the unsupportive opinions. I think we would do well to forget about specifics and argue the principles of the issue. Any arguments for why we don’t have equality are nothing more than apologies for inequality, which is an inexcusable position.
I arrived at this stance after writing my initial draft about the issues. As I reread the draft, I was struck by the thought:Who am I to argue these points? I can’t really empathize with the women about this topic, and though I have my opinions, they’ve been better made by women who actually live the issue. So, I erased it and wrote what you see above. I felt that by voicing my opinion about the specific arguments I was inadvertently playing a game that I didn’t want to play; a game that often obfuscates the real issues and sees nothing constructive done.
For those interested, here’s a great article from WomenCAN International about the specifics.
This article from the Toronto Star highlights some interesting issues that are a reality for many Canadian National Sport Organizations (NSOs). It is troubling that the NSOs dealing with the types of issues raised in the article (i.e., insufficient funds) are the lucky ones.
NSOs that receive funding from Own The Podium (OTP) receive it for specific reasons. The funding is targeted at sports based largely on future medal potential and past Olympic performance, with the aim of developing a system to produce repeatable podium performances. An issue for many in the sport community is these NSOs receive funding because they’ve already produced results, or are in a position to produce results, but there is a whole other level of NSO that receives no funding from OTP because they are not currently seen to have medal potential.
The question is, how do these non-medal potential NSOs get to a position where they can qualify for funding without any funding to get them to that position? I don’t feel comfortable delving into the discussion about the limitations of targeted funding, but the obvious corollary to that method, and our current national sport budget, is simple: until we have considerably more money in the system, a sustained positive change–in terms of medal count–will be impossible.
It is clear systematic changes are needed to increase the efficiency of every dollar spent–of course, this doesn’t change the fact that total funds available is still the problem. For example, a sport with an annual budget of two million dollars has to spread this money between technical leadership, such as coaches and high performance directors; a team with over forty athletes; support staff of doctors, physiotherapists, physiologists, massage therapists, psychologists, and more. This budget would have to cover travel, some equipment, team development, and a portion of the infrastructure necessary for all those senior athletes, staff and developing athletes to succeed. Two million dollars quickly becomes barely sufficient, as the Star article illustrates. (I’ve provided a link above to the sports that OTP funds. Take your pick, they all have similar issues to what I’ve outlined above.)
OTP has clear goals around medals, and they do not have enough money to fund every NSO at an appropriate level to achieve those goals. For Canada to compete on the Olympic stage, we need to invest more in infrastructure, sport science, and ‘the little things that make big differences’ for those athletes who are at the peak of their careers. But for Canada to compete in the future, we need to support those athletes at the beginning of their careers. We need talent identification and a sound development plan, with tracking, to ensure the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars invested in an athlete over his or her career, will be well spent.
It isn’t simple and it isn’t cheap. Own The Podium gets a lot of flak for their approach, and I understand why, but at least OTP’s targeted funding approach has been an attempt at something new in Canada. My guess is by 2016 we will have a good idea if it’s worked, in a sustainable way, for both summer and winter sports. As the Star article points out, Vancouver was a success, but it was a costly one. Our summer Olympic success is, so far, a different story than the winter program. Our performance at the 2012 London games has raised many questions, and doubts, as it was clearly not a step forward.
If Canada wants to compete for more medals in more sports, it needs to invest more money. We are one of few countries that try to do well in both summer and winter sports. Compared to the countries that do this and are successful, our GDP and population are small and spread thin. With an extra five billion dollars tacked on to the deficit in a year when many crucial government services were cut, and sport was left alone, we need to be realistic about getting more from the government. There is a funding gap between Canada and the countries we wish compete against. The only way to fill it is through more corporate sponsorship. Of course, if it turns out medals aren’t actually what Canadians care about, getting the money may be an issue.
In time, we will know if we need to appeal to a different heartstring than the nationalist one we’re tugging on now. I like the idea of sport as a community builder, an avenue through which everyone can share in the insane adventure of an athlete’s passion; an abstract quest for excellence that manages to touch millions of people, regardless of the outcome; a thing with which people can come together to celebrate. I don’t believe most Canadians value Olympic medals enough to want to increase high performance sport funding at the expense of other services. We will remain in the position we are in now with regards to our medal tally, because the numbers don’t add up.
OTP has been an attempt at trying something new; trying things that seemed to work in other countries. In response to the funding issues (I do not see the massive, sustained influx of cash needed to really make a difference coming from corporate Canada), and potential flaws within the current funding model, OTP will begin to change, to focus more on development and become more holistic in its approach. This won’t solve the problems raised in the Star article, but it may make for a more sustainable approach to funding.
Last night the Pointe-Claire Canoe Club threw me a ‘retirement’ party, which gave me the unique opportunity to gather together many of the people that have profoundly influenced my life and paddling career. It was one of the best moments of my career as an athlete.
Saying thank you properly isn’t easy. I often see many of these people, either individually or in small groups, but finally having the chance to say thank you to all of them at once, was something I’ve wanted to do for many years. Throughout my time paddling I’ve always stressed how important Pointe-Claire was for my success. It’s more than simply the unwavering support I’ve had from my club and the city itself; Pointe-Claire’s infrastructure demonstrates a powerful commitment to a vision of physical activity as a fundamental aspect of a healthy happy life. I grew up on soccer, baseball, hockey, swimming, sailing, and canoeing, and I know I couldn’t have accomplished half of what I’ve accomplished were it not for all those experiences. Last night was a chance for me to thank the community that raised me, and without whom, I would be nowhere. There was as close to a complete list of people there as I could have hoped for: my family, close friends, the Mayor, City Councillors, and people from the Recreation Department of Pointe-Claire, former teachers, coaches, kids, masters, and volunteers from PCCC, and many more.
Here’s a picture of Bill Cordner, one of the indispensable people mentioned above, handing me a plaque which reads: ‘Presented to Thomas hall, in recognition of his remarkable achievements and valuable contribution to the Pointe-Claire Canoe Club throughout his sprint canoe career.’
And below is a picture of me handing the Mayor of Pointe-Claire, Bill McMurchie, one of my paddles, with the following message on it: ‘To the city of pointe-Claire, Thank you for making my dreams become a reality. Thomas Hall, Olympic Bronze Medalist, Beijing 2008.’ The paddle was a way for me to give something back to a community that has meant, and will always mean, so much to me.
Once again, I owe the club, city, the people present last night, and those that sent their congratulations, a big THANK YOU.
Hi People, I’m alive and well. I’m Busy with school, volunteering at Canoe Kayak Canada and AthletesCAN, and I’m doing some ‘work’ for sportcafe.ca. I’ve begun an interview series with them that will feature a new athlete every week (check the cafe later today for one on my friend Josh Vander Vies). The series attempts to go beyond the results and get a look at what makes our amateur athletes tick.
I’ll have some more updates soon. But life is good.
As the games wrap up we can all summon images of pain and joy we’ve seen over the last two weeks. After all, sport is for most athletes about losing, as there can, ultimately, be only one winner. (I know this isn’t strictly true; on a personal level I’ve lost probably 99% of the races I’ve been in, but enough of those loses have felt like wins that I’ve been able to be proud of what I’ve accomplished and not feel like I’ve wasted 15 years).
Though winning and losing help to define an important part of sport, what I believe makes it fun to watch is while athletes are striving for excellence they’re also bringing us along for the ride through virtue of their stories, personalities and performances. When we’re on our couches screaming at the TV, we enjoy a visceral sense of what athletes are feeling; our hearts pounding and stomachs in knots, we share in their journey. And so, while watching the 4x100m yesterday, I was sharing in the collective excitement had by all Canadians watching when the Canadian men won the Bronze. Seeing our guys celebrating their victory was thrilling–watching that victory being taken away due to a technicality, was torture.
Mistakes are easily made and never forgotten by those who make them, and they are what often dictate Olympic outcomes. Whether a gymnast misses a dismount, or paddler misses a boat shoot, shit happens and that is what makes sport interesting. Jared Connaughton, someone I’m privileged to say I’ve spent a bit of time with, handled yesterday’s blow with amazing poise and dignity as he took responsibility for one–literal–misstep. His act of contrition is an example of what is, to me, most exceptional about the Olympics: how athletes handle disappointment. Sure there are tears, breakdowns, crushing losses, and occasional ’sore-losers’, but in the end, of the 10,500 athletes in London most did not win. A total of 2,300 medals were handed out, leaving 8,200 athletes who did not take home any hardware. Most of the 8,200 non-medal winners will go home with their heads held high, proud of accomplishing what so few ever even attempt: spending 10+ years of their lives on a goal that probably won’t work out.
The thing I often tell people when asked about the Olympics, is the games are a journey not a destination. What makes Olympians special isn’t when they seem to exceed human ability and run 100m in under ten-seconds or hold a Maltese Cross, it’s that they’re willing to devote so much of their lives–in many cases well over half–to something which may not ever happen. For all the Olympians with medals around their necks, there are many more that go home empty handed; and that doesn’t cover the ones that fail to make it to the games. But, at the risk of sounding cliched, those empty hands belie what they’ve won inside. For someone to be an Olympian, or even just to have earned a real shot at going to the Olympics, means they’ve put themselves in a position where their every move will be scrutinized and torn apart, where they will be lauded or ignored depending on the smallest of margins, they know this and accept it. A commitment to something that probably won’t result in anything tangible, other than some tracksuits and pictures, is its own kind of special bravery.
The London games are over and that special journey has begun again. If you liked watching the Olympics, try to follow some of those journeys a little more closely. Then, when the big show starts in Sochi, you’ll be able to appreciate a little more of the sacrifice, pain, and joy that goes into every moment of the games.
This morning Adam Van Koeverden won his fourth Olympic medal, and if the International Canoe Federation hadn’t removed his best race, the K1 500m, he’d be working on his fifth tomorrow. Adam, by virtue of his work ethic, has set an example for all athletes in all sports. By his own admission Adam wasn’t the best athlete as a kid, but I know very few people who can do anywhere close to the amount of work that this man can do.
Adam and I have been peers in age, and in a sense, sport since our first encounter at the 1997 Canada Games; two pimply, snot-nosed 15 years olds. And when, eight years ago, Adam began a journey to the realm of those who transcend their sports, I couldn’t have been more proud of my friend. Except for today, 15 years after we first met and half a lifetime later. Adam is consistently pushing boundaries, and himself, like no one else I know. His race today was one of the bravest races I’ve seen, he handled a level of pressure I can’t fathom, and he deserves every accolade he gets.
As opposed to what follows below, Adam is the founder of his own legacy, which make his achievements all the more impressive. Adam will credit a number of people for helping him become the athlete he is today, and he won’t be lying, but I think Adam has had to figure a lot out by himself. He’s broken a lot of ground for this, and subsequent, generations of Canadian paddlers, and athletes in general. Adam has never waited to be shown how to do something, instead, he goes out and gets it done.
Also this morning, Mark Oldershaw brought Canada’s total number of Olympic Medalists in C1, to eight: it began in 1936 with Frank Amyot, then Norman Lane and Douglas Bennet in 1948, John Wood in ’76, Larry Cain in ’84, Steve Giles in 2000, yours truly in ’08 and now, Mark. I’ve heard Larry speak about how John inspired him, and I know Larry inspired Steve, Mark and I. Steve, as someone we trained and raced with, had a huge influence on Mark and I as developing athletes. But that’s only part of the story. One name that’s missing is this story of legacy is Tamas Buday Sr., also known as Daddy-O.
Tamas, apart from his own extremely decorated career for his native Hungary, has been a national team coach at Canoe Kayak Canada since 1987. Tamas’ calm, quiet demeanour, aided by his 6’4 230lbs frame, commands instant respect from anyone he meets. But it isn’t through his size or profound knowledge that he has his greatest influence, it’s through his generous personality and love of paddling that he has influenced, and helped to coach, two generations of Olympic medalists. I can proudly say I am, and I think Mark would say the same, products of a system that Tamas helped grow. Part of what makes Tamas special is that he fostered a belief in giving back to the sport by way of helping young athletes develop.
The most pertinent example of this attitude of ‘giving back’ came in 2004 when Stevie Giles was going for his fourth Olympics at 105 years of age (ok, 34 but he seemed really old). Steve was hoping to defend his bronze from four years earlier in Sydney. Stevie knew this would be his last kick at the can and he choose to invite three young athletes to come train with him: Mark, Ian and I. Out of all of us, Ian Mortimer was the fastest at the time, with astounding World Cup results, but fickle luck took its toll on Ian, and a few back-to-back injuries meant that he had to keep fighting his body. (Despite this, Ian has had a huge role on the team as an athlete and as someone who embodies the ethos of giving back more than anyone else I know.) Throughout that summer, Stevie, in his quiet and understated way, showed us how to be champions–or at least bronze medalists. We trained with him, watching in amazement as he sped away from us like we weren’t moving, while his coach, Tony Hall (sadly for Tony, no relation), pushed us so that we could push Steve to his limits. And when Stevie finished a close fifth in Athens, we all felt like we were a part of his result, and were inspired to pick up his mantle. Mark picked that mantle up in a big way this year, training with a core group of younger athletes on the team, all of whom are nipping at his heels, and who helped to push him to his limits.
To watch an athlete like Mark embody the legacy of performance and generosity left behind by athletes like Steve and Larry and coaches like Tamas, coupled with watching Adam transcend and add to that legacy, is more than simply inspiring. The simple act of giving a young athlete a helping hand can produce ripples that last for decades. These two medalists have demonstrated that in a huge way. The medals won today, through the support of families, friends, clubs, CKC and, of course, the legacy written about above, is what makes this morning special for me and, I’m sure, the rest of the Canadian Canoe Kayak community.
Now, for the 200M team racing tomorrow: Use those medals as inspiration, get to those finals, add a few more pieces of hardware and make this legacy even greater.