Chilliwack pair are Taylor-made for the games
Isabel Taylor, 11, bobs in her kayak on the water near the rocky edge of the Tamihi Rapids, waiting for her dunked companions to retrieve their lost paddles and boats.
Two of her training partners tipped in the rushing torrent and, unable to right themselves, had to eject and swim to shore.
The group is eagerly braving the cold water this cloudy afternoon in preparation for the Nanaimo 2014 BC Summer Games, where they will compete for provincial distinction along with 18 other Chilliwack athletes.
With time on her hands, Taylor recalls the story behind the signature-covered helmet she wears for this practice session.
Last summer, while competing at the Canadian Whitewater National Championships in Kananaskis, she met a long list of riversport idols, including Olympian David Ford. The veteran competitors wrote personal messages to Taylor on her headgear, now a treasure that rides with her on training days.
Taylor talks excitedly, oblivious to the river rushing around her. She is at home in this boat, on the swirl of water below Chilliwack Lake Road.
Her brother Rhys, 15, has been paddling with Isabel since they took up the sport almost four years ago, and the two of them are set to go to Nanaimo mid-July to compete in the Games.
They are not the only siblings to be heading to the Games this summer. Fellow paddlers Austin and Maddison Atkins make up the other half of the kayaking crew that will represent Chilliwack at the event.
“I am glad that Maddison is going to the games too,” says Isabel. “Now there will be another Chilliwack girl to hang out with, and it will be fun to compete together.”
The four of them are led by their coach, Jon Allen, whose kayak competition credits include two downriver national championship wins.
After competing in Europe and training in Australia, Allen returned to Canada to mentor younger aspiring paddlers.
“I began coaching to stay involved after a shoulder injury,” he says. “Coaching is my way of giving back to the sport, because I had so many great coaches during my paddling career.”
Allen has been working with these junior paddlers since their first day in the water.
“They are a great group of kids and have worked through many setbacks,” he says. “Every day they surprise me with their determination and hard work.”
After returning with the runaway boats and paddles, Allen takes the two swimmers aside in calmer water to mete out punishment for their wet exits.
Each paddler executes two complete rolls, first entering the water, then twisting back upright above the surface.
While the mood of the group is generally fun, Allen is serious at this point. Staying in the boat is important in competition, as ejecting will result in a Did Not Finish (DNF).
His persistent and patient coaching has paid off. Both Taylors competed in the 2012 BC Summer Games, and then again in last year’s Canadian National Whitewater Championships, where Isabel gathered her prized helmet signatures—and top prize in her age category.
“He has helped me improve my strokes, and taught me how to maneuver different types of boats in the water,” she says. “I can now roll in lots of different boats thanks to [Jon], and I can get them through the slalom gates without touches.”
Coach Allen says he tries not to put expectations of results on his athletes, but has a good feeling about the upcoming event.
“I expect to see them approach the slalom event with confidence and paddle good, fast runs through the gates,” he says. “They have it in them to win that event.”
And although the races are important, there is a lot more to the Games for these young competitors.
“It is the whole Games experience of meeting new friends, trying different things, sleeping in dorms, late nights, early mornings, a dance, a flash mob, cool medals, and a bit of independence and responsibility,” lists Isabel and Rhys’ mother, Barb Taylor.
Barb is one of the tireless parents who volunteer their time to fundraise, judge, plan, provide homestays, and ensure that these opportunities can be realized for the children.
With such close involvement from the parents, it certainly is a family affair.
The trip to Nanaimo will be the Taylor clan’s second BC Games together.
“Having my brother Rhys as a teammate is good because then we have something in common to do and to talk about,” says Isabel, also admitting they can be competitive.
Rhys, the quieter of the two, is a little more direct with his take on sibling rivalry.
“Having my sister as a teammate is sort of annoying,” he says.
“But it’s fun to beat her.”
• Young athletes from all over British Columbia will participate in the Nanaimo Games, July 17 to 20. Chilliwack is sending 22 competitors, four coaches, and six officials to take part in 12 of the 19 sports on schedule. They join approximately 3,200 other participants at venues in Nanaimo, Parksville and Duncan. Able-bodied athletes are 11 to 18 years old, and athletes with disabilities must be between 13 and 50 years old to compete.