The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team’s remarkable run of five straight national championships has come to an end.
The team took second at the 2017 USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Championships behind Georgia powerhouse Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club during the four-day competition last week in Clermont, Florida.
“Lanier did a fantastic job,” said GHCKRT assistant coach Aaron Huston, who was selected to be a coach for Team USA in the Olympic Hopes regatta in September in the Czech Republic. “They’re a tough team. They had way more kids — that’s the strategy, just taking advantage of every possible point you can get. We didn’t have that strategy this year. We’re kind of in a rebuilding year. We had some amazing athletes there but didn’t bring the kind of numbers you need to win nationals.”
Nonetheless, it was a successful regatta, even with the humid heat. GHCKRT brought home 34 gold medals, 26 silver medals and 23 bronze medals.
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Athletes Jonathan Grady, Ben Gregory, Irissa Danke, Kyle Field and Trisha Martinson were selected to represent Team USA at the Olympic Hopes regatta in September.
Canoeist Kenny Kasperbauer, 19, said he felt the event was a success.
“It was just a good nationals all around,” he said. “Nothing went terribly wrong. It was fairly successful.”
Kasperbauer competed in the C1 200, 500, 1,000 and 5,000-meter races, as well as two and four-person canoe races, walking away with four gold medals, four silvers and a bronze. But coming in second? That was a tough pill to swallow.
“Everyone was very professional about it,” Kasperbauer said. “There was no hard feelings or sour feelings, it was all genuine appreciate and congratulations for the winning team. They had a good, strong developed team this year. I didn’t hear or see anyone talk or think negatively.”
But it will serve as motivation for the future.
“I think it lights a little fire underneath us,” he said. “A lot of these kids are passionate and we’d like to bring home another championship. It’s always a little motivation here and there. Shows what we have to do and what level we have to perform at.”
Sixteen-year-old canoeist Jonathan Grady said he agreed with his teammate.
“Now that everyone has had a little break from Gig Harbor winning it, I know we’d like to take it back next year,” Grady said. “We all talked about it and basically came to a consensus that it was a rebuilding year. Coach Aaron was telling us we’re working on getting our technique down and strengthening and more individual events.”
Grady competed in the 200, 500 and 1,000-meter races in the C1, as well as competing in several C2 events with his older brother, Ryan.
For Huston and the rest of the coaching staff, seeing the process and long grind come to fruition with lots of medals was the rewarding part.
“I always enjoy seeing the kids come together and fulfill their potential that they’ve been working on all year,” Huston said. “For me, I know about how fast they go in the harbor, how hard they work in the gym. So to see them turn around and apply that and convert that into speed at a big regatta like nationals is amazing.”