Gateway: Sports

East German native Schmidt brings knowledge, experience to kayak team

The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team has won three national titles in a row, dominating the domestic scene under coach Alan Anderson.

Now, Anderson wants to take his program to the next level: competing on the international stage against European juggernauts like Germany and Hungary. To do that, Anderson brought in high-performance coach Holm Schmidt, a native of East Germany who was previously coaching in Pennsylvania.

“He brings a lot of education and experience to the table,” Anderson said. “He has coached at an international level. It was our intention in Gig Harbor to bring in the possibility of coaching our athletes to the next level. It was basically an opportunity for our high performance athletes to compete with the Europeans. That’s the major thing of bringing him in.”

While Anderson is primarily self-taught, Schmidt brings a wealth of knowledge and a sports science background to the table.

“My sports science education is greater because I was fortunate enough to be exposed to good, high-performance schooling in Germany,” Schmidt said. “I worked with world championship athletes and trained with them. I was in a talent school as a kayaker myself. I’ve lived the life as a high performance athlete.”

Schmidt recognizes how good this team already is, but also appreciates the reality of its status as a player on the international stage, one that is just not quite there yet.

“We have proven the last four of five years that nationally, we can supply athletes into the national team,” Schmidt said. “I’ve taken more athletes out of the national team than most of the clubs in this country have put in the team. I have 15-year-old athletes who qualified for the American junior world championship team, and I’ve taken them out. So we’re already over-exceeding our goals. But Alan and I, we know where the reality is. We want to bring our kids into the reality of international, high-performance paddling.”

To do that, Schmidt, 49, works about 60 hours a week with the team’s 25 or so high-performance paddlers. From weight training early in the morning to two-a-day training workouts on the water, Schmidt stays busy. In a state-sponsored club in Europe, with a dedicated boathouse and full-time staff, Schmidt said there would be three people doing the job he’s doing alone. But he’s not complaining.

“It’s what I call a necessity to build and improve,” he said. “The sacrifice is worth it for me. The kids give it back to me with their attendance and dedication.”

The long-term vision for the club: Competing internationally, and producing a homegrown Olympian athlete.

“We want a kid from Pierce County, Gig Harbor, the Tacoma-area, out of this club to represent the U.S. at the Olympics,” Schmidt said.

So far, Schmidt is enjoying his time in Gig Harbor.

“There’s a strong foundation here,” Schmidt said. “There’s a community that stands behind the sport. There’s a long-term vision and there’s talent. It has a lot of the basic things, plus the spirit here is phenomenal. You’ve got to be strong as an Olympian, (and) have a spiritual strength and say, ‘I’m willing to sacrifice.’”

The dedication of the athletes, who are in the gym before school, is what drives Schmidt to work hard to help them.

“They have a goal,” he said. “That’s something I really like, because it validates my work here and my 60-hour weeks.”