Sam Fletcher’s rapid ascension in the canoe-racing world has been nothing short of astounding.
How often, after all, does a 16-year-old race his first competitive whitewater slalom race in April, and get good enough to represent his country just three months later?
“I did a lot of winter training that really helped me,” Fletcher said when asked about his meteoric rise. “The thing with my coach Jon (Allen), is he really pushes me. It’s just worked really good.”
Really good seems like an understatement when you think about where Fletcher will be next week.
Wausau, Wisconsin isn’t likely to knock anyone’s socks off.
But it’s what’s happening in the town of 37,000-and-change that’s significant.
The International Canoe Federation World Junior and U-23 Championships will draw more than 200 top athletes from a ton of countries.
Fletcher will represent Canada in two events, the C1 and C2 races.
He will be wearing his country’s colours in international competition — the ultimate aim for many elite athletes.
“It’s gonna be sick,” Fletcher said enthusiastically.
The Sardis secondary school student earned his plane ticket with a strong performance at the Junior National Whitewater Team Selection race, held May 26-27 in Kananaskis, Alberta.
Individually, he tore through four runs on the world-class course to qualify in C1. He teamed with Saskatoon’s Ben Lapointe to qualify in C2.
“After Kananaskis, you could see the confidence in his paddling,” said Fletcher’s dad, Rob. “He’s very good technically, and once you get the technique down, the speed starts to come. Some days you can see the speed and some days the river still throws him for a loop.”
This won’t be Fletcher’s first time on the Wausau course.
He travelled to America’s dairy state last year for a pre-national competition, where he competed in K1 kayak.
“The course is really good, not too difficult but it’s got some big drops,” Fletcher said. “When the water is really pushy, it makes it more difficult to get where you want to go. If the water is calm, it’s better, and this course is a bit more calm. It’s more fun than anything.”
Fletcher, who trains with the Chilliwack Centre of Excellence, goes into the event with modest expectations. Earning a spot in the qualifier race would make him happy.
Anything beyond that is pure gravy.
“I’m just going to try my best and race as good as I can,” Fletcher said. “Maybe get some good training in too. I Think I have a better chance in C1 cause I’ve done it longer. But if we can get our rhythm down in C2, we might have a chance there too. But there are a lot of good athletes that’ll be there.”
The Wausau event takes place July 11-15, though Fletcher will be there well beforehand to train and familiarize himself with the course.
Find event info online at http://www.canoeicf.com/icf/
l Fletcher won’t be the only Chilliwackian competing in Wisconsin.
National Junior Team member Jazmyne DenHollander was pre-selected, which allowed her to skip Kananaskis qualifying.
She will paddle in the K1 women’s race.
Get local paddling info at http://ccekayak.tripod.com/