Olympians Crowd Into Brevard County For Training

By  //  April 12, 2012

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Born on New Year’s Day 1979, Maggie Hogan has 14 national kayaking championships under her belt and is shooting to make the U.S. Olympic team for London this year. She’s been training in Indian Harbour Beach with her USA teammate, Jennifer Burke. (Images By Robert Hughes)

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BREVARD COUNTY • INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH, FLORIDA Jennifer Burke and Maggie Hogan are getting quite an international experience here at The Pines Resort on Banana River Drive.

“We’ve been here with different groups, with Germans, Dutch, people from Norway,” Burke said.

“And there’s a bunch from Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Finland,” Hogan said. “And the Slovaks spend quite a bit of time with us. We had the Slovaks over for Thanksgiving! And then there’s the Senegalese.”

You’d be excused if you thought the two young women from San Diego sound like they’re working for the United Nations.

Instead, they are members of the United States canoe and kayak team training in Indian Harbor Beach to make it to the Olympic Games in London this summer.

The Norwegian paddling team races down the Grand Canal in Satellite Beach, where international athletes have been coming for years to train for their top competitions. Eirik Larsen, in the green kayak, won a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the single kayak 1,000-meters event.

And their global experience isn’t developing from any travel they’re doing this winter.

Rather, all those countries they mentioned have sent their paddling teams here to an apartment complex conveniently sited beside the Banana River and the Grand Canal.

Like London

It’s quite a location for their training this year, particularly because the river offers a big water stage not dissimilar to the one in London.

And the long, narrow Grand Canal is perfect for those days when the wind picks up too much for their fragile, thin racing boats.

Of course, what also draws top paddlers from around the world is the warm winter weather — and water that’s liquid.

As Danish kayaker Emil Star put it, “We tried a couple times to paddle back home this fall. But you’ve got to put on gloves, three layers of sleeves and all that, and that’s not the same thing. Anyway, the lakes are frozen there now and will be until next month.”

So, unbeknownst to passersby on the road to Merritt Island, this resort is a draw for some the world’s best at motoring across the water – without a motor.

But while teams from other countries come together to train here with their own coaches and funding, home-grown Americans have no such advantages.

“We get a little support, but the federal government doesn’t support the sport at all,” Hogan, a 14-time national champion kayaker said. “We used to get some funding, but this year we’re getting nothing.”

Scattered

The result, she said, was that her American teammates “are just scattered all over the place” and not training together.

For her and Burke, the only Americans currently training at the facility here, that’s not entirely a bad thing, however.

Members of the Danish paddling team get instructions from coach Martin Hald, right, before putting their boats into the canal beside The Pines Resort in Indian Harbour Beach for a training session.

“It has something of a silver lining,” Hogan said. “It’s because we’re here with some of the best paddlers in the world.”

Burke, a two-time national champion kayaker herself said, “There are different groups with coaches and we can get on their training programs — maybe not completely, but to use parts of them.”

Hogan said, “You can train here more. We have four sessions (of training) a day. And the quality of the training is real good.”

To further their cause, both Hogan and Burke moved from San Diego to train with a coach in Oklahoma City, the site of Olympic qualifying for their sport.

Being close to the proceedings can only help the part-time students manage their way without much financial support.

Hogan works as a substitute teacher to help make ends meet.

“I had been in cancer research, but it was just too much with all the training,” she said.

Star, from the lakeside town of Silkeborg, Denmark, doesn’t have such financial concern hanging over his head.

Members of the Norwegian paddling team start a training session on the canal on the left side of a launching platform beside The Pines Resort, while a Canadian crew of kayakers push away on the right.

Students

“Most of us are part-time students,” he said. “On Team Denmark, we don’t need to have a job.”

Although the paddlers train virtually every day, Star said he and his teammates have had some time to enjoy their semi-tropical surroundings.

“Oh, yeah, we have time for the beach, shopping in Orlando, going to Key West for a couple days,” he said.

The Danish team, like most of their fellow international paddling visitors, spends six to eight weeks training in Brevard County in both the fall and spring each year.

It all makes for a quality international experience for everyone who comes to our warm waters in their pursuit of Olympic, World Championship and World Cup gold — and hopefully having some fun along the way.

“It’s kind of funny,” Hogan said. “People will say to us, ‘You all take it so seriously getting into these tiny little boats.’ And then we’re making these friends from all over the world.’ “

Want to help the US paddle for gold? The United States canoe and kayak team is getting no funding from the federal government this year. That puts our athletes at a disadvantage against numerous teams from around the world who get financial support from their countries. The United States of America Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit group that provides support for our paddling athletes. If you’d like to contribute, go to asack.org. Olympic qualifying runs April 20 and 21 in Oklahoma City for the 2012 Olympics in London in August.


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