Monday, 24 June 2013

European Champion

Smile says it all
There is little  worse than getting to the start of your race with 3 minutes to go and seeing no other competitors anywhere in sight.  Refusing to be ruffled by this, I returned my focus back onto my race, visualising everything I had to do for the 200m to the finish line.

My coaches had drilled a race plan into me so well that here I was at the start line feeling really well prepared and completely focused .  I would be lying if I said I hadn't had that funny feeling in my tummy on the lead up to the Europeans, but as soon as race day came around and the race plan kicked in I became focused, calm and ready to do everything my training had worked towards.
Race lake
2 minutes to go and still no other competitors. Slight concern waved through my head, I hadn't got the wrong day had I? For those who know me this thought won't surprise you! ;-)

The doubt had started because there had been much confusion about when we were actually racing. With lots of new athletes needing formal classification we didn't find  out our race times until late on Thursday evening. My race was to be on Saturday, but most of the team were racing on the Friday. Stressfull! This meant I was left alone with my thoughts in the Hotel on Friday.  I was joined at breakfast by John Anderson (performance director for the whole of GB canoeing). I was still finding it odd being part of Team GB. "Hi I'm Anne, one of the para canoeists". "Yes, I know who you are. I've watched you paddle."  Now that's a weird way to start your day!

The morning of my race was completely different.  Now it was my turn and as soon as my race plan kicked in the butterfly tummy was replaced by a sense of calm and purpose. Claire, my coach, had drummed into me what was expected. I knew what to do and when to do it so glancing at my watch I saw it was time to warm up.

Team GB had its own portable 'high performance' centre set up with an office, lounge and warm up zone. Lying down on the mats I noticed someone else had joined me, Ed Mceever was also warming up. "Mind if I join you?" he asked. I had to stifle a giggle - it's not everyday an Olympic gold medalist asks to lie down next to you like this..

Into my race gear - the other para athletes had nicknamed it a mankini but I was assured by the olympic athletes it was actually an "all in one". Either way it wasn't what I would have chosen to race in. Skin tight white lycra on untanned British skin is never going to look great.

Race Kit
The warm up paddle to the start of the race was on a lovely sheltered side lake.  My first experience of warm water had been really strange. It felt like I had been practicing in treacle back at home and I had needed to change my stroke slightly, ( thanks for the top tip Claire!).  As I went through my warm up routine I could hear a familiar voice over the tannoy from the main lake. Jim Rossiter from Wey Kayak, my home club, was the official commentator. It was very comforting to hear his voice as I paddled to the race start.

With less than 2 minutes to go, my focus was distracted by one of my coaches shouting, "You're in the wrong lane!!". (Good skills by the way for being able to project that far against the wind...) I have reasoned that it was the strong cross wind that had blown me into the next lane, but then again I could have just got it wrong! (once more those of you who know me wont be surprised..)  By this time all the other competitors had arrived as if by magic and the race was about to start.


Batty from Wey had been helping me with my stability during my starts and I was pleased with how I did here- so thank you Batty for standing in the cold River Wey at 6.30 in the morning to help me with balance drills:-) 

In the zone I lost all peripheral awareness and simply stared down through my tunnel vision to the finish line. My body went into autopilot and I just did what I do every day in training.

I was vaguely aware of lots of cheering- thanks team!!  As I crossed the finish line I looked left then right and realised I had won.

I felt a massive sense of achievement and relief rolled into one. I had paddled to the best of my ability. I had done everything that was expected of me, but more than that I had won!

What next?  My race plan hadn't mentioned what to do if I actually won and I felt a bit naughty by spontaneously grinning into the TV camera as I paddled past. But hey, I was happy!!

I've watched medal ceremonies and stood on podiums before but never standing under my national flag, listening to my national anthem.  Such an amazing, indescribable moment! All our hard work was worthwhile!

And now looking back at my race video I  can see that although I did my best, I have lots of work to do and  a long way to go. Luckily there are a whole 9 weeks before the World champs, so my training diary is already set and I'm raring to go. 

A very big thank you to my wonderful coaches from GB paracanoe and to UK Sport for providing funding to make our high performance centre simply rock. And then a special thank you to Claire, my local coach at Wey - and in fact all at Wey who have been so supportive, every step of my journey from wonky cyclist to European para champion.

Gold Medal

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