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For the seventh time in the past eight years, the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team brought home the American Canoe Association Sprint National Championship.
This time held at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville, Georgia, nationals took place over the span of four days on the same course that held the 1996 Summer Olympics. And despite it being over 90 degrees with high humidity, all the athletes competed in well over 200 events.
“This one is especially a big deal because we’ve been trying to grow our organization,” said head coach Aaron Huston. “Both in terms of numbers and in terms of the quality on the performance side… To come to Lanier and win, working against such a strong team, we had to really pull out all the stops.”
The win for GHCKRT feels like the program is put on the right track in terms of growth. The support surrounding the team from the community fired up the athletes participating and fueled them at nationals.
One such racer was 14-year-old Emma Albrecht.
Albrecht, an incoming freshman to Gig Harbor High School, has been canoeing with GHCKRT for two years and this is her second time going to nationals.
“It feels great, it’s really an honor to be a part of it all,” said Albrecht. “It’s something that we all have worked hard for as a team. I’m really proud of everyone that contributed to this as a team. I’m really grateful.”
Albrecht and her teammate, Sarah Grady, won the grand final in the Juvenile C2 500 meter sprint with a time of 2 minutes and 34.401 seconds. Right behind them were their teammates Kelly North and Macy Settle with a time of 2:38.089.
They weren’t the only group of athletes that competed against fellow teammates, as GHCKRT boasted a large number of participants this year.
Last year, the organization sent 38 athletes to compete in Oklahoma City. This year, 58 athletes represented Gig Harbor along with eight coaches and a small army of parent volunteers.
All of these athletes came down with one thing in mind: winning a national championship. More than that though, Huston and his coaching staff instill a culture of community, respect, and teamwork in their athletes.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the words of Dylan Boeholt.
Boeholt is a running start junior at Gig Harbor, but competing in his third national completion for GHCKRT. Not only was one of his best events the Juvenile K2 1000m sprint, but he also raced in the same boat with someone from another team.
“I would say that was my favorite race this nationals,” the 16-year old said. “To work with an athlete from Petaluma, California… I just felt so much more motivated. Before the race, we supported each other and didn’t worry about if we couldn’t do the event individually.”
Boeholt’s partner was an athlete named Petri Alva from the competing team Rivertown Racers. Together, the duo came in third place with a time of 4:00.436.
“It’s unreal. It seems like it’s impossible and then you have that opportunity and you experience it and it’s like ‘wow!’,” said Boeholt. “If we work together, anything is possible.”
The camaraderie of the team not only affected the athletes but the coaching staff as well.
Alyson Morse is one of the assistant coaches for GHCKRT that traveled to the national championships with the team. In a sense, she is giving back her time to a program that helped develop her passion for paddling on the water.
She credits her former coaches, including club founder Alan Anderson, with changing the trajectory of her life. Now she does that for the current roster of paddlers for GHCKRT.
“Being able to come back as a coach in any capacity in any sport, you have the ability to develop the kids’ character,” she said. “Basically, loving people is the most important thing. Respecting each other and a hard work ethic. We have a very unique way of challenging kids.”
And without a doubt, the athletes responded to the challenge.
From the very first day experiencing the hot weather, the athletes withstood the heat. Through fatigue and fighting through the long distance races at the end of long days, the athletes still found the strength to get on the water and compete.
“That’s why we train so hard,” Huston said. “You don’t get a ton of hot weather up in Gig Harbor, but there are other things that are good though. There’s wind and current in the harbor so kids are able to deal with that pretty well.”
This win is a big one not only for the team, but also the Gig Harbor community as a whole. The youth being able to go out and compete beyond the national level speaks volumes to what the program has become since Anderson’s creation.
“The community of parents is fantastic, and the help and support from them,” he said. “Also, we feel the spirit of the community of Gig Harbor with us, and the support… I’m thrilled with the support that we’ve had.”
The next time members of GHCKRT will hit the waters competitively will be Aug, 21-24 for the 2019 Sprint Paracanoe World Championships held in Szeged, Hungary.