Rolling, rolling, rolling on a river.

Posted: December 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

As a new student to UCC this October, I was faced with many choices regarding which clubs and societies to join. Thinking that, being a college student, I would have plenty of time on my hands; how naive I was; I decided that taking part in a new sport would be a good idea. I have always been heavily involved in some form of sport, whether it has been doing athletics or swimming, having competed on Irish teams in both disciplines. Of course the first port of call for any prospective club member is the Clubs’ Open Day. It was at this year’s open day that I was introduced to my newest pass-time.

            On that particular day it was the UCC Canoe Club that took the prize for the best stand in the exhibition and that captured my interest. Having sailed before and being a swimmer I was well accustomed to water-sports and I am a fan of the water, although not as much at this time of the year, so the canoe club was definitely the right place for me.

            The first day at a new club, meeting new people can be daunting for the most extroverted person and I was no exception. I suppose I was apprehensive about the sport itself, would I be able to cope? Would I be able to paddle in a straight line? On the first day the answer to that second question would have been a resounding no, but I can honestly say that I coped very well with the new sport. This was in my opinion, a direct result of the capable hands into which I was placed in the club as a fresher, or what is affectionately known amongst experienced members of the club as a “swimmer”. The canoe club members are some of the most helpful, understanding people I have met since my induction to UCC. I’m sure you all can understand the apprehension a “swimmer” might feel towards their first day paddling. Kayaking is, after all, an extreme sport. However the experienced members of the team are highly qualified to instruct newer members and I have never felt unsafe in the water around them.

Since my first day on the water I have, I hope, improved in leaps and bounds. The club offers two different types of sessions each week. Each Friday we go out on the river Lee, meeting behind the Mardyke Arena to practice our river technique. On Wednesdays we are given the chance to perfect the more difficult skills in the less challenging and admittedly much warmer waters of the Mardyke Swimming Pool. I have used these sessions to my advantage and hope to achieve the holy grail of kayaking skills; the roll; after the Christmas Holidays. For a demonstration of this elusive technique try Youtube, those of you with a sensitive disposition are advised not to view content featuring rapids! The club encourages constant improvement and I am delighted to say that I was one of many freshers to pass the level two kayaking exam in December.

Not only does the club offer these training days but there are also opportunities to compete in the several races that take place in Ireland and in competitions such as Varsities which will take place in Cork in February. These are not the only events available to a Canoe Club member. In November I went on my first kayaking trip with the canoe club to Kerry on what is affectionately known as Jack’s weekend. This weekend included a more challenging river trip down the Upper Carragh, traversing a particularly rocky stretch of river which has been nicknamed the “Graveyard” for the benefit of the already terrified new members. We also had the chance to try kayak surfing on Inch strand, although, for me, there was more capsizing than surfing. Another trip to Kerry was organised to celebrate the New Year this December where some sub-zero paddling, or tobogganing in any case, was enjoyed.  Kayaking is actually a far more diverse sport than most people would give it credit for. As I have mentioned already, there are river races, long distance races and kayak surfing, for the showmen and women among us there is free-styling, where a kayaker gets to showcase all his tricks, like cart-wheeling, and for those who enjoy a team sport there is polo.

So it seems that the canoe club has something for everyone, except canoes, technically we all paddle in kayaks but let’s not be fastidious. Yet still there will be people reading this that will think they wouldn’t be capable of kayaking. For me, finding a new sport was harder than most. I am wheelchair bound after all, so unfortunately I was never going to get that premiership contract. Yes, my disability makes kayaking a little more difficult, rivers were, surprisingly not made with wheelchair access in mind. I have learned throughout my life that anything worth having is worth working for, being a member of the canoe club is definitely worthwhile and the effort I put in to it does come to fruition. Of course, I could have done nothing without the help I have received from the ever-willing Canoe Club members. It just goes to show that kayaking can be a sport for everyone and that anything is possible with a little help. Having been well and truly inducted into the ranks of the canoe club I was recently made one of the Canoe Club fresher reps, for this reason I am keen to get as many new freshers to join the sport in the new season. Therefore if you are reading this and are still reluctant to try it out because you think you cannot possibly do it, remember that if I can do something anyone can. All it takes is some determination.

When I went in search of a new sport this year, I wasn’t merely looking for another form of exercise, I wanted a new social outlet also. The other members of the Canoe Club are not merely instructors and fellow swimmers to me anymore, they have become friends. The thing that struck me when I went away to Kerry with the club is the number of ex members who still meet to go paddling together. Though they have left UCC and now have jobs all over the country, these ex members still feel attached to the club and its members. I know that when I have left UCC and have become qualified I will also feel that same sense of belonging to the club and I hope that I will remain friends with all the other kayakers.

Having passed the level two exam, I will start to teach new members of the club after Christmas. I am excited to meet a new group of fresh kayakers and make even more friends. If you are one of those new members in the New Year please do not hesitate in introducing yourself, you won’t be able to miss me, I’ll be the only kayaker on wheels! Hopefully I will master the roll soon and after that nothing will be able to get in my way, bring on the Alps!

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