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Students compete in Olympic Hopes regatta in Poland

Guest article by Squalicum senior Emma McCoy

Nothing compares to pulling up to the start line. Racing is imminent, your heart is pounding, and everything else just falls away. You hear “Racers, hold your boats! Ready, set, GO!” and you explode off the line in a whirlwind of water and movement. This is sprint kayaking, flat-water racing at its fastest.

This is the story of five students in Bellingham Public Schools who represented team USA in Poland this September and raced at the highest levels.

My name is Emma McCoy and I’m a senior at Squalicum High School. I’ve been paddling for three years, and I love this sport more than any other. In September, four of my classmates and I were chosen to represent the United States at the Olympic Hopes regatta in Poznan, Poland. This regatta is designed for high school students around the world and the competition is fierce. We arrived in Poland with 21 other athletes from around the country a week early to adjust to the time zone and bond as a team. Each athlete competed in a variety of races spread out over three days of the regatta, and that, times 25 athletes, equaled a lot of moving parts to keep track of! The trickiest aspect, in my opinion, was adapting to new team-boat partners in such a short time.

Sierra Noskoff, a Sehome junior said, “Going in k2 (double boat) with someone new was challenging at first, but it was fun because you get good racing experience!” Sierra enjoyed bonding with the other kids from around the country, saying “the amount of support from my teammates definitely improved my racing spirit.”

That racing spirit is a vital aspect of the team culture, and it’s one of the things I like best about these competitions. We are 25 athletes from all over the United States, together in a different country doing what we love best: racing.

Jonas Ecker, a Sehome sophomore said, “Team spirit helps me not only at a regatta, but during training as well. Teammates are always pushing me to train harder and they support whatever race result I get.”

The racing culture in Bellingham is particularly unique because we have an entire community of adult paddlers cheering us on. Our coaches are volunteer, and we have no shortage of parental support. The vibrant and dynamic paddling culture provides an invaluable platform of support.

For me, kayaking means growth. Constant growth. There is nothing more humbling than flipping out of your kayak into the icy water right when you thought you were doing well. Nothing has pushed me to work harder than this sport, and Olympic Hopes is a huge event that my teammates and I have worked all year towards.

Milan Gauthier, a Bellingham junior said, “Kayaking means education. I had to learn to persevere through failure, to where I cherish the feeling of working to give every last piece of energy into every single practice.”

She’s absolutely correct; kayaking at this level is an experience of learning every day. I learned more during three days of racing than I could learn in three months of practice. The pressure, the coaches and all the kids involved make Olympic Hopes an invaluable experience.

Something that’s amazing to watch at Olympic Hopes is the results. Racing times and live results are displayed on a huge screen above the racecourse and I could spend hours sitting on the grass and watching the fastest girls in the world race. Elena Wolgamot, a Sehome junior, is one of those. She raced in her single (k1) in all three distances and is currently in the top ten in her age group in the world. It’s been amazing to watch her grow and improve over the years and we’re all so proud of her results at Olympic Hopes.

Elena said crossing the finish line, “it gives me a giant rush of energy and it makes me realize how every bit of training I do helps lead to this moment.”

She’s right, every little bit of training helps. Every Bellingham athlete pours their heart into their training and shows up to races meaning business.

My goal is to always feel excited when I pull up to the start line. I want to never have that feeling fade; that rushing heartbeat, the anticipation of a fight to the finish line. I hope to go to Junior and U23 Worlds next year and maybe even the Olympics. Jonas wants to maintain his place on Team USA for Olympic Hopes again, as well as Junior/Senior Worlds in the future. Elena hopes to go to the Olympics eventually, but says she has a long way to go before then. And no matter the goal, we will all keep paddling and looking forward to the excitement of the start line.

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