By Joe Livarchik
It was a soggy Monday afternoon at Blue Heron Landing in Bothell as Dan Henderson led his Cascade Canoe and Kayak team of four junior paddlers out onto the Sammamish River.
The team’s afternoon practice was the group’s second session of the day; the four youths, ranging in age from 12-16, were also up at 6:15 a.m. to get in their morning weight-training session. The group’s two-a-days take place three times a week, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
During the day’s second session, the young athletes exercise their paddles.
“The thing I like best about the sport itself, or the activity, is the glide,” said Henderson, the Cascade racing team’s coach and a former world-class canoe racer. “The boats go really fast. You take a stroke and the boat glides. It’s just this wonderful unique feeling I’ve never found anywhere else. … What I like about it as a coach is just getting to see the kids grow up and become adults and having some effect on that process.”
Henderson was gearing up for Cascade Canoe and Kayak’s summer season, which kicked off with Cascade’s youth canoe beginner summer camps on May 2. Four summer camp sessions will be held throughout the summer, with the final session running through Sept. 2.
Youth between the ages of 10 and 13 who are looking to join a water sport, gain paddling experience or get into sprint racing have the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s best. Henderson is a former U.S. Canoe and Kayak national team member and a four-time Pan American medalist.
The summer camp serves as a prerequisite for paddlers to join Henderson’s canoe and kayak sprint-racing team, though no prior paddling experience is required to register for the program. With his camps, Henderson said he is looking to grow his racing team, as well as give young athletes a taste of what paddle-boat racing is all about.
“I think what we have is the epitome of a northwest sport,” Henderson said. “It’s an active, outdoor lifestyle. A lot of the perception of what canoe and kayak is in the states, people think of it more as a recreational activity and not the fourth largest Olympic sport in terms of medals.”
Henderson works with paddlers ranging in age from 10-66 across various performance levels. The paddlers in his junior development program are younger than 18. His masters group is for paddlers who are older than 30. His senior performers, who train for national and international competition, span in age from 18-35. Henderson also works with paracanoe athletes who range in physical abilities.
He said his top paddler, 16-year-old sprint canoeist Andreea Ghizila, is ranked third in the world for her age group.
“She’s really special and she really has committed to training,” Henderson said. “I think for kids looking for a sport, she’s a really good role model. For me, the message is that these are the kinds of opportunities we can offer here. If kids want to race locally, regionally, nationally (or) internationally, we’re equipped for all those levels to support their goals. It’s their choice what goals they choose, but we can pretty much support any of the goals they want.”
Henderson said his racing team competes in 15 regional races a year, or about one or two a month, around the northwest in places that include Seattle, Bellingham and Gig Harbor. He acknowledged that the sport hasn’t caught on in the United States as it has in some other countries, though he said the Pacific Northwest is one of the strongest areas in the country for canoe and kayak racing.
Whether looking to compete or simply looking to try something new, Henderson said participating in canoeing and kayaking can provide athletes with a well-rounded, non-contact sport that many people are able to do throughout their life.
“We’re trying to offer kids in the area around Bothell these kinds of opportunities to get on the water, learn to paddle, be safe on the water and then train and race,” he said.
For more on the Cascade Canoe and Kayak Racing Team or to register for a summer camp, visit www.cckrt.org.