Wade finds her winning way Down Under
February 2, 2004
Despite a black eye, a scraped shoulder and an overall bruised upper body, Carbondale native Ali Wade won the junior Pre-World Championship of freestyle kayaking last week in Penrith, Australia.
But injuries aside, the fact Wade captured the title is nothing short of amazing, considering she hadn’t been in the water since late summer.
“I was feeling extremely rusty and nervous,” Wade, a senior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, said. “I hadn’t paddled at all, and [all of the other competitors] had been paddling.”
Wade ventured over to Australia in mid-January, giving her roughly two weeks of preparation in the water before the competition, and she made the most of her time.
“I did quite a bit of training,” she said. “I’d try to train in two workout sessions every day.”
The competition took place on the Nepean River, the home of the 2000 Summer Olympics kayaking events, where a hole was recently designed specifically for the juniors.
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In last summer’s World Championships in Graz, Austria, ” where Wade placed second ” the girls competed in an enormous hole on the Mur River that garnered criticism for being too big, meaty and nasty. As a result, course officials in Australia built a particularly small, shallow hole for the junior girl’s competition, which proved to be equally controversial.
“They figured we got way too scared [in Graz],” Wade said. “But their idea didn’t really work out ” every time you’d flip over, you’d have to tuck up really tight [to avoid hitting the bottom].
“It was funny, you could tell who was playing in that hole, because everyone had a scratch on their right shoulder, and their helmets were all scraped up.”
Wade wasn’t an exception and fell victim to the shallow depths on one of her training runs.
“I flipped over and tucked up but I wasn’t quick enough,” she said. “[I hit bottom] and my sunglass lens popped out and cut my eye, giving me a black eye.
“I thought I needed stitches, but they glued it shut.”
Still, heading into the competition, Wade wasn’t hampered by her injuries, but rather her nerves.
“I went out and completely choked on my first run,” she said. “I did one or two spins and got washed out.”
Following her first run, Wade was tied for last place with Anita Cowley of Australia. The two faced off in an extra run to see who would advance, and Wade said Cowley came up short.
“I got extremely lucky, it was nothing [more] than that,” Wade said. “Just extreme luck.”
The finals consisted of five rounds, with the lowest-scoring competitor in each round eliminated.
Following her first-round run, Wade didn’t look back.
“Usually, in that first ride, anxiety makes you choke,” Wade said. “I always think it takes one round to get all your jitters out and paddle like you’re capable of paddling, and it worked [for me].”
Round after round, Wade became more confident. While most girls devote their entire runs to a series of spins, Wade said she decided to push her limits and risk it all.
“Most of the girls would just spin, and it became a spinning competition,” she said. “That’s what everyone comes back to because it’s safe, but I don’t like doing that.”
Leading up to the competition, Wade was determined to master a cartwheel ” flipping over the nose of the boat so the craft is vertical and perpendicular to the water. While risky, since a cartwheel gone bad could flush a boater out of the wave and force them to swim, Wade decided to go for it in the finals.
Instead of simply linking together a series of flat spins, Wade threw a couple cartwheels into the mix, and the judges took notice, rewarding her with higher points and the gold.
“That’s what I like doing, I like taking that risk. It’s way more exciting.”
Emily Jackson, also of the United States, took second, with Jennifer Chrimes of England finishing third.
Now, the new junior world champion is faced with another risky decision.
Wade turns 18 in August, which eliminates her junior status for next year’s World Championships. If she wants to continue competing, she must do so at the women’s senior level.
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet,” she said. “It’s going to be tougher. There are tons of really talented senior women, and it’s really challenging.”
Wade said she may go to college next year, or she might take the year off to train, ski and work.
“There are a lot of options,” she laughed.
Steve Benson’s e-mail address is email@example.com