The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team won its fifth straight national championship over the weekend in Oklahoma City.
The team preserved through four days of intense Oklahoma Heat to win the Yonkers Award with 718 points. Ten-time national champion Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club — from Lanier, Georgia — came in second with 666 points. Oklahoma City Canoe and Kayak Club finished in third place with 493 points.
The U.S. National Championship was also the qualifying event for the Olympic Hopes Regatta in September in Szeged, Hungary. The Olympic Hopes is the top international competition for sprint canoe and kayak athletes ages 15 to 17. Thirteen Gig Harbor athletes were selected to join Team USA and represent the United States at the regatta.
13 Number of Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team members who qualified for the Olympic Hopes Regatta in Hungary
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Gig Harbor athletes will make up 40 percent of Team USA, and Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team coach Holm Schmidt has been named one of the Team USA coaches. To top it all off, Gig Harbor High School student Ryan Grady, 17, was named Team USA captain after his canoe performance at the national championship event.
“It’s a big honor,” Grady said. “I’m really happy to be leading the team and helping the younger athletes, being there to help and encourage them. I’m really excited. We’re bringing a lot of athletes this year.”
Grady qualified in the C1 1,000-, 500- and 200-meter races for the Olympic Hopes regatta. Grady won the 1,000 C1 junior race in Oklahoma and the 5,000 race.
It’s been my goal to win a national title ever since I began the sport (five years ago).
Ryan Grady, Gig Harbor canoeist
“It’s been my goal to win a national title ever since I began the sport (five years ago),” Grady said. “Especially racing alongside my teammates who I had been training with and racing against for five years. I’m happy all the hard work I put in paid off.”
The Gig Harbor team continues its unprecedented streak of national title victories.
“Each year, it’s been getting better and better,” Grady said. “I’m really impressed with the development of all my teammates, the level of competitiveness during practices. We have a strong base we’ve been working on. We have such a great environment on the team.”
Peninsula High School and TCC running start student Catherine Wilborn, 16, had a strong showing in the kayak events, helping guide GHCKRT to the title. She knew it would be tight between GHCKRT and the Lanier club, so when the announcements came of the final standings, she was nervous.
“It’s always nerve-wracking,” she said. “When they announced the second-place team, we were all clenching our hands. And then when they announced us as the first-place team, we all jumped up cheering and screaming. It’s a lot of adrenaline.”
Wilborn was also named to the Olympic Hopes regatta team.
“It’s really special,” she said. “I never thought when I was little that I’d be such an intense athlete. I was very much a pretty, pink princess kind of person. To everyone’s surprise, it turns out, I’m extremely competitive. I think I found my stride in paddling. Just getting to go to Hungary, it’s like the equivalent of Wimbledon for tennis.”
For GHCKRT, the streak doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.
“We have a really strong development program,” Wilborn said. “If we keep recruiting, we can keep it going for a long time. We have a lot of extremely passionate people on this team. Everyone on our team cares about it. We can keep it going.”