What can you say about an event that has the best of the world gathered for a contest where you have winners and losers? Certainly, we can talk about winning and losing. However, after 11 World Championships, 32 U.S. Team Trials, 35 World Cup Races, and the Olympics, I have learned one thing. There is truly no losers, unless the event and experience was considered to be a loss by the athlete. On the outside, this would be appear to be the self-talk of someone who is trying to justify their losing. In this World Championships, I lost. I failed to turn my capability into the gold medal that I was chasing so hard. I was crushed, because I like to “paddle for pleasure, but compete to win.” But, I have learned, that in a sport that has a format that requires you to average about double everybody’s score to give yourself a favorable chance of winning, you can’t base your involvement in the sport, on winning. That reality (advice) is actually what gets you to look around and see what is really happening in the event. People from 30+ countries, all in different circumstances, all with different motivations, most who want to win, all went through lots of trouble to be there. Many don’t believe they can win, but wish they could. But let’s talk about the kind of dedication that some of these athletes have. How about Mario Vargas from Costa Rica. Mario has competed in every world championships since 1997. His best performance was in Spain last time with a 27th place. He didn’t do quite that well this time. However, try to imagine yourself in his shoes. Mario has been a safety boater on the Paquare’ and the Reventazon Rivers since 1996. He can out paddle about 99% of all kayakers in the US. He makes in a month what most people make in a few days. He is married to a beautiful woman named Anna and they have a four year old daughter. In order for Mario to get to Austria, he had to borrow money. In order to pay the money back he will have to work in California for four months and send all of the money home. His chance to compete in the 2003 world championships came with much sacrifice from him and his family. He was in tears when he told me about his four months he would have to go without being with his family, just to pay the couple of thousand dollars back to his lender. Now, before passing judgment, or feeling sorry for him, he is one of the happiest, more balanced, and quality individuals I know. His life has meaning, and he knows what it is, his paddling, his family, and his character. Mario is one of 250+ individuals, all with stories such as Mario’s. Some are less interesting than others. Some have money, most don’t. Every story will be different than Mario’s, but many of them would go through as much as Mario to be in Graz last week. There, are of course, many athletes that don’t care nearly as much about the event, or their performance. That is fine as well. Somebody has to be in charge of the social element of the event. The parties of the world championships put your standard parties to shame. This is because freestyle kayaking produces some of the most colorful personalities I have ever seen, those personalities are hard to find in the real every day world. The “Irish Dave’s, the Schorshi’s, Dan Campbell’s, etc. etc. etc. need a bigger world to roam in, need more sensory bombardment and certainly a wider audience to play to, than the water fountain at the office. So when the event begins, the show starts. The parties are more of a improve comedy show, complete with those who are “extra’s” and those who have a script. The next day there are the stories. The event format is perfect as a mental build up to a grand fanale’. After each day of the competition, people are eliminated until there are only the 5 finalist in each class. At this point everybody else is just a spectator and the opportunity to enjoy the rest of their time, without the stress of competition.
Meanwhile, I just woke up from my 24 hour travel back from Austria to Rock Island. I am very happy to be home on the farm! I leave tomorrow for Colorado, wish I could spend a few days at home but have commitments there, nothing to complain about!
In January, the Pre-World Championships will take place in Sydney. Very Exciting! I can’t wait! Meanwhile, lots of rivers to run, and ground to cover in the next 9 months. Colorado has lots of snow, creeks will be going off, time to get out the Mutant!