Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team emphasizing youth development

Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team kayaker Catherine Wilborn, 17, is preparing for the Junior World Championships in late July in Romania.
Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team kayaker Catherine Wilborn, 17, is preparing for the Junior World Championships in late July in Romania. Staff writer

Alan Anderson is back as the coach of the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team, and those around the team couldn’t be happier to have the program’s founder back on the water.

“I’m having a good time,” Anderson said. “I’m enjoying the challenge.”

Anderson was brought back after GHCKRT parted ways with head coach Holm Schmidt in December 2016, leaving the club with a head coaching vacancy. Naturally, the board turned to Anderson.

“This is a bit of rebuild,” Anderson said. “The rebuilding part is working on the foundation of the team. The foundation of the team is young kids. That’s what had unfortunately been ignored. So I started bringing some new kids into it.”

Surrounded by a team of assistant coaches alongside him, Anderson has embraced being back with the team.

“We have a great coaching staff here, so I’m not carrying a very big load anymore,” Anderson said. “We’ve got all the bases covered.”

That includes 17-year-old coach Rylee Price, who has been tasked with the development side of the team, working with the beginners. Working with first-time paddlers has been a great experience for Price.

“It’s one of my favorite parts of this job — the first time they get on the water,” she said. “It’s so exciting. You can just see the joy on their face. They connect with the water and they just go. So just the first year or so of paddling, teaching them the fundamentals of the stroke, getting them set up for success but also helping them fall in love with the sport.”

Price said the emphasis toward bringing younger kids into the fold has already paid dividends for the team.

“It feels like a family again,” Price said. “The younger kids and older kids work together. I think it’s beneficial for the older athletes who get to have that kind of mentorship and help the younger kids. It almost feels intergenerational — there’s different stages of paddling all on one team.”

That’s not to say the club doesn’t still have some accomplished older and more experienced athletes, as well. One is 17-year-old Catherine Wilborn, who qualified for the Junior Worlds Championships in late July in Romania.

Wilborn is hoping to get into the K4 competition with Team USA — a four-person kayak race. According to Anderson, she should be a strong bet to be selected.

“As I’ve worked with her over the year, she’s very disciplined in the boat,” Anderson said. “That kind of discipline is what you want in the front of the boat. It’s where we’ve always had the most success. Everyone follows her rate and her stroke. So that would be the ideal spot for her.”

The front spot in the K4 is a challenging one — it means dictating stroke rate and setting the pace for the other three athletes in the boat.

“The hardest part about being the stroker is not getting too excited,” Wilborn said. “You have three people behind you, so you feel all this power and speed. And you feel all this energy. So the main part about being a stroker is controlling that energy, setting a stroke that’s precise. If you just listen to all the power, you’re going to lose everyone.”

All told, the club has 44 youth athletes, one para-athlete, five masters (adult) athletes, five year-round coaches, one summer-year coach and four summer coach interns.

Three athletes — Catherine Wilborn, Olivia Crocker and Ryan Grady — were selected for Team USA and will be competing in the 2017 Junior World Championships (U18) in July in Pitesti, Romania.

One athlete, Ziggy Norberg, was selected for Team USA and will be competing in the 2017 Para-Canoe World Championships in August in Racice, Czech Republic.

Twenty-eight athletes and two coaches will travel to Clermont, Florida in August to compete in the USA Sprint Canoe and Kayak National Championships.

At the National Championships, several GHCKRT athletes will also be competing to qualify for spots on Team USA for the 2017 Olympic Hopes Regatta (U16) in September in Racice, Czech Republic. The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team is also in the midst of its summer camps and spots are still available in Sessions 3 and 4, which run Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday, three hours per day from July 7 through August 5. The cost is $225 per session.

Registration can be done through the team website,