Gateway: Sports

Team USA canoe team making waves in Gig Harbor

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Learn about Gig Harbor's quality of life, one reason why it tops a list of best places to retire in Washington state annually.

A little slice of the Summer Olympics has come to Gig Harbor as members from the Team USA national canoe team are spending a few weeks at a training camp held at Ancich Park.

Their purpose is to refine their technique, condition their bodies and minds, and figure out what their best race would be on the water. And all of this is done under the watchful eye Aaron Huston, a Gig Harbor resident and coach for the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team, who is also the Team USA national canoe coach.

“Training is going very well,” Huston said. “Right now, so many athletes that are new to our style of training are getting (used) to it. All the athletes are tremendous athletes from around the country. They come from great clubs and great coaches.”

Huston has been the national coach for two years and coached canoeing for four years overall. He also holds the same title for the Gig Harbor Canoe & Kayak Racing Team where he was formerly the high performance coach.

“There are lots of different kinds of workout plans, every coach has their own,” Huston said. “(The athletes) are on training plans that are supposed to help their endurance, power or speed based on the distance they need to go and the time it’s going to take them.”

Essentially, Huston is trying to get his athletes to get the most efficiency out of the least number of paddle strokes.

Even though he is coaching a national team, Huston has room for some familiar faces from GHCKRT. Nevin Harrison is one of the training athletes for Team USA that has trained under Huston before as a canoeist trying to break through to Tokyo.

“Aaron is awesome, I’ve never been worked harder by someone,” she said. “He has such a passion for helping every single athlete he can. He has a huge amount of people that he has to deal with, but he still gives us that attention that we need.”

Harrison will be entering her senior year of high school this fall at Roosevelt in Seattle.

Yet, she has put together an already impressive resume as she’s earned four gold medals (two from the 200m and two from the 500m) and a silver medal (1000m in 2017) from canoeing in the Olympic Hopes Regatta, a competition that is a step before the Junior World Championships, in 2017 and 2018.

In fact, no American had ever come away with any gold medals from the event until Harrison did at age 15.

“It was a pretty big for us,” Harrison said. “It was completely unreal. Going in my first year in 2017, I had no idea what to expect… I remember lining up to race and thinking ‘I’m going to try and win’ after everyone had told me to be realistic.”

Through her excellent performances in the Olympic Hopes Regatta, Harrison has been selected as part of the Team USA representation for the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, beginning later in July.

A few coaches and teammates will also make the trek to Peru with Harrison, while Huston and other members will travel to Junior U23 World Championships held in Romania.

“We’re all meeting back in Atlanta for the national championships,” Huston said. “We’ll compete there, and then I’ll be part of the coaching staff that competes in the Senior World Championships in Hungary. I think the key for success right now is try to build some consistency and reliability in the national team. I’m trying my best to contribute to that.”

However, the big goal is to get to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. For Harrison, the road may seem long but entirely within reach.

“It goes from the Senior World Championship in August, to the Pan American Championships which are next year in May,” she said. “If I were to win that, then I would get an Olympic spot.”

If Harrison should qualify for Tokyo, she would be among the first female canoeists to compete at an Olympic level as the 2020 Olympics are the first for the sport for women.

“It would be so huge (to represent the United States),” Harrison said. “Because it’s such a big moment for gender equality and women in sports, it would be so awesome to represent my country there.”

For now, Huston and Harrison will continue to train in Gig Harbor before their whirlwind travels begin later this month.

“That’s the big thing, that’s why our club does well and people are supportive,” Huston said. “I know the rest of the coaches and athletes feel it’s a gift to be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Team USA will once again compete in the Pan-American Games in Peru as well as the Junior World Championships in Romania later in July.