My first US Team Trials experience
This past weekend I was lucky enough to go to the US Freestyle Team Trials that were held at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. It was my first national level competition in freestyle, so I was both nervous and excited to make the fourteen hour drive down from Connecticut to North Carolina to attend. The event was originally going to be held at Rock Island, Tennessee, but record water levels forced the event to a different location. I was super stoked to hear that the event was getting moved to the Nantahala, because it’s one of my favorite kayaking spots that I’ve ever been to. NOC is like kayaker’s paradise, with a fun play feature, an outfitter’s shop and restaurant on river right, and a great spectating area on river left. Not to mention the Nantahala is a great river run and there is tons of epic whitewater super close by.
Unfortunately due to my school schedule and also being the only paddler coming from New England, I wasn’t able to arrive at NOC until the day before the competition. After a long two days of driving I finally arrived with my mom and I was able to shake off the road weariness with some practice rides.
I quickly found the feature to be super tricky and pretty discouraging, especially with the high water levels, and I immediately had trouble keeping a positive mindset with the competition just under 24 hours away. Throughout the day on Friday I took a total of four short practice sessions, taking care not to tire myself out too much. I was frankly very intimidated by all the other paddlers who had been able to devote so much to training, and was having trouble reminding myself that I, too, deserved to be there and paddling with everyone else. Some fellow paddlers were really encouraging and reminded me why I was there in the first place, and that everyone, in some way or another, was feeling some of the same nerves that I was.
The night before the competition I made sure to eat some clean food and get a good night’s rest, as well as do some positive visualization, which I find helps me out a lot. I managed to get some sleep even though my mind was thinking way too many thoughts.
The morning of the competition I woke up and immediately felt more in touch with my body and less of the road-trip hypnosis that I was feeling on my practice day. The morning was cold; just above freezing, and it was entertaining to listen to the paddlers native to south complain about the weather, even though it felt balmy to me compared to what I had been training in all winter in Connecticut. For most of the morning I watched the Jr. Women, C1, and Jr. Men take their prelim rides, and tried to use their performance to stay in the right frame of mind.
Once everyone else had gone and my heat was approaching, I suited up and I really began to focus. I took a lap around the parking lot while I blasted some music, and then I picked up my boat and headed up river so I could get a quick warm-up before my ride. My thoughts, surprisingly, were not circling around the negativity that they were yesterday. After a quick warm-up, I floated down to the feature and joined the other girls in the eddy. They were already laughing and having a good time, and that really helped to ease my nerves. I was the first to go in my heat, and once I got the thumbs up from head judge Elaine on shore, I ferried into the play hole.
Surprisingly I felt pretty relaxed, and started off my ride my shoving my feet down and plugging for an air loop. The boat came around nice and straight, and I was able to land still in the hole, which boosted my confidence for the rest of the ride, although I wasn’t able to pull off any more tricks.
My second ride was pretty devoid of tricks, but I went for some cartwheels and splitwheels that didn’t land and left me flushing out of the hole. After having watched the ladies in the heat before me, all of whom had extensive freestyle training, I didn’t feel too bad about how I did. What mattered to me was just being able to be there, get my name out there, and have my friends and family supporting me.
I’m looking forward to attending the next team trials, training, and following the action on the World Championships in Sort, Spain. Thanks to everyone who supported me on this adventure!