Though it happened 11 years ago, the memory is still vivid in my mind. I volunteered to assist in launching PaddleAll, the national adaptive program in western Ontario. This led me to my first paracanoe conference, where I found myself as the only athlete with a disability.
A pivotal moment came when the need for a para-athlete to represent Canada at the European Cup arose, and all eyes turned to me in the room of delegates.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I reflected on my racing experiences, even though I wasn’t exactly a “high-performance” athlete when I joined the sport as an adult amputee.
Water provided a sense of freedom for me, and the club became a second home over the next two decades. Paddle sports fostered a family-like atmosphere where diverse age groups interacted, with seasoned paddlers mentoring the younger ones, resulting in lifelong friendships.
In case you’re wondering, paracanoe provides an excellent outlet for individuals with limited lower body mobility. It ranks second to swimming as the preferred water sport for those with mobility challenges.
Equipment is provided, and safety orientation is integral to the program. When I began kayaking, adaptive programming was scarce, and I had to devise solutions on my own.
Now, coaches tailor equipment to suit individual needs. I use a steering mechanism looped around my foot, which has been a game-changing improvement.
Paracanoe sprint races feature two types of boats: kayak and va’a.
Kayak employs a double-blade paddle, while va’a is an outrigger canoe with an ama as support and uses a single-blade paddle. Both categories offer three classes of events for men and women, based on disability classification. International paracanoe races are individual events, covering a distance of 200 meters.
Just as all ages participate in regattas, all abilities are welcomed. Paracanoe races are integrated into local, divisional, and national regattas alongside other events.
The momentum of the sport continues to grow. Para-va’a has been added to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, and it has been confirmed that paracanoe will be featured in the 2024 Paris Paralympics. The Paracanoe World Conference in Sweden in 2018 aimed to broaden the scope of the sport.
While racing is no longer a major part of my paddling journey, I’ve ventured into stand-up paddling and white-water canoeing in recent years.
For me, nothing beats the serenity of being on the river at day’s end or during a sunny weekend. Across Canada, clubs offer programs for all ages and abilities. Whether you aspire to race or simply enjoy the water, paracanoe opens up a unique perspective on life.