The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team is back on top. Last week in Oklahoma City, the team re-captured the title, winning the 2018 USA Canoe and Kayak Sprint National Championships.
The title is GHCKRT’s sixth in the past seven years. Their five-year winning streak was snapped last year by Georgia’s Lake Lanier club.
GHCKRT finished with 933.25 points, edging Georgia’s Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, an 11-time national championship winning club, which came in second with 879 points. Rounding out the top five were the San Diego Canoe and Kayak Team with 523.5 points, the Oklahoma City team with 470 and the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club, which tallied 253.75 points.
“To be able to go from the low of losing last year, to this high, is a big deal for us,” said 14-year-old canoeist Sarah Grady, who racked up eight gold medals and one silver for the team in the competition. “It’s a big accomplishment for us and it was really fun. Last year was kind of a downer but we recovered well and we’re bringing up a new generation.”
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The club has been rebuilding the past year. GHCKRT head coach and founder Alan Anderson figured the club was still another year away from contending, but after crunching the numbers prior to nationals, realized the team had a chance.
“I didn’t think that’d be the case this year,” Anderson said. “I expected next year to be the breakout year. But I saw the potential for us to take this. … So I told our paddlers, ‘This is the national championships. This has nothing to do with mediocrity. This is about taking it to the next level.’”
Across the board, GHCKRT delivered strong performances over the week, culminating in a stellar final day on Aug. 4. Thirty-eight athletes competed for GHCKRT in Oklahoma City, which included 35 kids and three adults.
“This was a win from top to bottom — from our very young kids, up to Andrew Field scoring points for us in the senior division,” Anderson said.
Gig Harbor High School student Oliver Farquhar, 16, posted strong performances in the canoe events, qualifying for the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Poland in September.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot from other times I’ve gone to nationals in the past,” Farquhar said. “These are the some of the fastest times I’ve ever posted. Overall, I just became a better athlete.”
Farquhar said losing last year left a bitter tastes in the mouths of GHCKRT’s members.
“I’ve never known us to lose,” he said. “So last year was a bit of a surprise. I think coming back this year shows that our club is very serious about this sport and that we want to compete and improve.”
When the announcement was made that GHCKRT had taken first place, the athletes went berserk.
“I flipped out when they announced that,” said 16-year-old kayaker Jackson Plymale, a Gig Harbor High School student. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was overjoyed.”
Plymale credits the win with the increased depth the team has enjoyed in the past year.
“The recruitment from our summer camps has been vital to our team’s success,” he said.
And having coaches like Katy Hill, who works with the younger kids, and Aaron Huston, who coaches the canoeists, has helped the club’s trajectory and growth.
“(Huston) has helped me a lot with my technique and my mindset in the gym,” Grady said. “It makes a big difference. He’s just been super motivating and has pushed me to work hard.”
Could this be the start of a new national title streak for GHCKRT? Next year will be a stiff test, as the Lake Lanier club will be hosting, and will be eager to reclaim the title on their home course.
“The win this year definitely sent a message to the other clubs around the country,” Plymale said. “It’s going to be extremely competitive in Georgia next year. It’s going to be a tussle, it’s going to be a fight. But we have an amazing team.”
GHCKRT also qualified several athletes for the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Poland Sept. 14-16. They are: Carson Walter (women’s canoe), Trisha Martinson (women’s kayak), Oliver Farquahar (men’s canoe) and Jonathan Grady (men’s canoe).
Anderson was happy to see his team back on top.
“This is the finest character team I’ve ever been around,” he said. “That includes the parents. They’re a big part of it. It’s just such a community. It’s really a pleasure to be around. (Huston) and (Hill) do a lot of work, but so do our parents. … So it’s just really nice to come back with a win. It makes it even more worthwhile.”