Gig Harbor has national- and international-level superstars who work out every day on the bay. Head coach Alan Anderson has built the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team from the ground up, and now he has several other high-quality volunteer coaches who really know their stuff.
It’s time for the community — the city, Pierce County and other unincorporated areas — to recognize the value of the club and help find it a permanent home along the waterfront.
Our A1 story about the team this week focuses on the club’s new paracanoe program and Anderson’s hope of training an Olympic or Paralympic medalist. Those ultimate goals have been the same since Anderson began the club 10 years ago with his son, one of his son’s friends and his own equipment.
The growth in the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable.
The club is closer than it’s ever been to getting someone to the Olympics. It already has sent athletes to Junior Olympics and international competitions, including prestigious events in Europe, where paddle sports are much more popular.
Anderson is doing it the right way, and the United States Olympic Committee has recognized that. The national organization has named Anderson its coach of the year in each of the past two seasons, and it also has honored assistant coach Jonathan Sousley, who in charge of strength and conditioning. Graham Ulmer leads the developmental program.
The paracanoe piece is special because of the funding it received from the USOC. The sport’s governing body wants to train veterans and disabled athletes in the sport, and it trusts Anderson and the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team to teach them how to become medal winners.
That’s quite an honor for our town, and it’s something the city surely will jump on when — not if — an Olympic champion calls Gig Harbor their training headquarters. The street signs likely will be redesigned to read something like: “Welcome to Gig Harbor, the Maritime City and the home of Olympic gold medalist So-and-So.”
OK, we don’t know their name yet. Anderson might.
The program already has had several standouts who have trained at well-known facilities such as Lake Placid, N.Y., including Cedric Bond, a five-time individual national champion who was named to Team USA’s under-23 team in 2010 and ’11. And Katy Hill, who won a gold medal at the USA Canoe/Kayak Collegiate National Championships in 2010-11.
Both Bond and Hill are at Oklahoma City University, which has one of the best canoe/kayak programs in the country.
But the program isn’t just for the elite. It helps train youth 9-18 and has a developmental program for those who are less experienced. It holds local events, such as the Paddlers Cup next month, and it also travels to bigger competitions. In fact, Gig Harbor won its first national championship last August on Green Lake in Seattle.
While the club has had decent support, at least in terms of publicity, it’s earned an opportunity to have a permanent home in the harbor.
Anderson hopes to build a “human-powered craft center” at the city’s newly acquired Ancich property along the water. The potential facility would house his team’s equipment as well as sailboats and other craft for public use, and it could be a valuable downtown tourist attraction.
The city is currently fielding multiple proposals for the property, although Anderson said he’s seen positive feedback about the craft center from members of the city council and others. Support from the public will be crucial if the project is to be realized.
If the USOC can recognize the positive work Anderson, his coaches and team members are putting in on Gig Harbor Bay, the community should, too. Representatives from city and county governments should look for ways to help the racing team meet their goals with proper facilities.
Because every time a team member hits the water, they’re representing Gig Harbor and, eventually, the United States.