Georgia Masters Take on the World
by Dana Richardson
On the left: CJ Haynes and Leslie Brass
On the right: Jayne Berry and Inez Grant
In the last week of July, when most of us were lazing about in the sweltering Georgia heat, ten sprint kayakers from the Southeast region (Jayne Berry of Duluth, Leslie Brass of Gainesville, James Gould of Clemson, SC, Inez Grant of Gillsville, CJ Haynes of Gainesville, Ben Lawry of Ridgeland, SC, Leo Llonch of Gainesville, Dana Richardson of Gainesville, Melissa Schmidt of Wadmalaw Island, SC, and Gar Urette of Tampa, FL) traveled to Edmonton, Canada to compete in the World Masters Games.
The World Masters Games were created by the International Masters Games Association for athletes from across the spectrum of sport, age, and skill to come together from across the globe. This year's Games had over 21,000 registered athletes from 84 countries. That's almost twice the number of competitors in last year's Olympics. The youngest competitors were 30 years old and the oldest competitor this year was a 96 year-old swimmer from Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The level of competition ranges from novices to former Olympic athletes. So what made this group of Southerners think they could compete with the world's elite? For most of us, it was a combination of support and encouragement from our friends, family, and coaches and a lot of passion for our sport.
For many Gainesville residents, sprint kayaking should not be unfamiliar since the current Lake Lanier Olympic Center was the venue for the 1996 Olympic Rowing and Sprint Canoe/Kayak events. Most of our group of kayakers got their start just a few years ago paddling on this venue. Our group ranges in age from 34 to 58 and is comprised of two different clubs, the Carolina Canoe and Kayak Club and Southeast Paddlers. Under the tutelage of wonderful coaches, Kristoff Lepianka, Holm Schmidt, Guy Wilding, and Alain Nougeras, our group of Master paddlers has flourished.
Our odyssey began in earnest early this year with not only training but also fundraising to help purchase boats and pay for their transportation. There were times when it looked like we'd never make it to Canada, but with the help of generous sponsors, our dream was finally achieved.
Finally, on the race course, all of the trials and tribulations were forgotten, and our months of training were put to the test. We didn't disappoint, coming home with a pretty hefty medal count: 8 gold, 23 silver, and 13 bronze. Not bad for a bunch of old -timers!
There were some magical moments on this trip:
- When Inez Grant won her first medal and immediately called her son (while still in her boat!) who had just competed at the Pan American Games as a sprint canoeist. Later she also teamed up with some Russians to win a gold medal!
- Seeing some of the Russians with old CCCP uniforms.
- Making friends with a number of Australians and teaming up with them in boats. The Aussies definitely know how to have a good time!
- Melissa Schmidt medaling in an individual kayak race and attributing her success to the superior coaching of her husband Holm Schmidt who was unable to be with her at the Games. (Interesting note: In some of her races, Melissa was competing against one of her husband's old schoolmates from East Germany.)
- Jayne Berry winning 3 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze medals as a tribute to her 24 year-old daughter Jessica who recently lost a four-year battle with cancer.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. The camaraderie between people with a similar passion crossed cultural and even linguistic boundaries. I think my teammates would join me in encouraging all adults to become involved in a sport for life at any level. You're never too old.