Watch out for this 17-year-old paddling phenom from Suamico, Wisconsin. She may just be the next gold medal winner at the 2008 Olympics!
Gwen Greeley first started kayaking at age 10 when her family moved to a house right by the water. Her father wanted to try a sport that the whole family could enjoy, so he bought kayaks and signed them up for classes at their local YMCA. Gwen says, “At first I was scared that the boat might flip over and throw me into the water, but really there wasn't anything scary about it.” Gwen and her family started slowly—learning to paddle and control the boat in a swimming pool first before heading outdoors. Their instructor taught them how to get out of the boat safely if it flipped over, and the basics of paddling the boat from place to place. Once Gwen and her family became more experienced on the water, they learned how to right the boat while still in it, and how to get back in the boat if it tipped over.
Ridin' the Rapids
At the age of 12 (and just her second year of competition), Gwen qualified for the Junior Olympics in the 14 and under class! A race was held with the top kids from all over the country. Gwen says, “It was especially exciting because we didn't race on a real river—instead, we raced on a whitewater ride at a theme park in Charlotte, North Carolina! Just being in the race was like riding on a roller coaster!”
These days Gwen concentrates on slalom racing. This is when paddlers travel down a course that has 25 gates and stretches of whitewater rapids. During a race, Gwen has to paddle through a series of gates (part of a course marked by two poles that a paddler has to go through) as quickly as possible. If she misses a gate, or touches any poles that are used to mark the course, she gets time added onto her score. And, she has to do all of this on an unpredictable river!
School IS Cool
Gwen attends a kayaking academy that's just like normal school, except she travels to different training sites around the world and attends classes there. Gwen has paddled in Costa Rica, and on the Olympic course in Sydney, Australia! One of Gwen's favorite kayaking trips was to Chile where she paddled alongside volcanoes in bright blue water, and had a chance to see some awesome waterfalls along the way!
Although she gets to train in some of the most beautiful places in the world, it isn't all fun and games. Gwen practices twice a day six days a week during racing season. In the off-season, she runs, lifts weights, and goes on long paddling trips to stay in shape. Even if you don't have Olympic dreams like Gwen, kayaking is a great way to get physically active, enjoy the outdoors, and spend time with your family and friends!
Kayaking is a lot of fun, but remember, it IS an extreme sport. It's important to master the basics
— like being a strong swimmer and knowing how to exit your boat safely if it tips over. Gwen says she takes safety very seriously when heading out to the lakes and rivers in her area. “I always wear a helmet and life jacket.”
Gwen says there are lots of opportunities across the country to get involved in kayaking. She suggests checking out your local YMCA, outdoor equipment stores, and Boy or Girl Scouts to find out more about kayaking in your area. Gwen lent a hand to her fellow Girl Scouts by teaching them how to paddle—and earned a kayaking patch doing it!
Most importantly, Gwen says it doesn't matter if you win or lose, just get outside and do something that you enjoy! “I have truly found a sport that I love. I realize that the key to being the best at a sport is not just getting the medals they award after the races, but enjoying the ride it takes to reach that medal stand.”
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