“I feel incredibly blessed to be able to spend my summers on the water, coaching kids.”
I come from a large family, 9 siblings plus myself. As a result I learned a lot about teamwork from my family. We all did our share, and there were no exceptions. We all read, played piano and were involved in many sports and extracurriculars. In the early 1970s my family moved to Waverley, Nova Scotia. My first exposure to the world of Canoe-Kayak began at Cheema, the local canoe club, where my parents enrolled not just their kids, but themselves as well! My Dad volunteered as Paddling Director at Cheema the year I was born. That same year, with the help of my five oldest siblings, our club won their first National Championships. I started paddling when I was four years old, in the “Kiddie Canoe” program.
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The following year, my brother-in-law and sister became Coaches at Orenda, a new canoe club twenty minutes away , so the whole family followed them. The main coaching staff at Orenda was comprised of three couples in their early twenties, all of whom had extensive paddling backgrounds. Orenda quickly developed a family-friendly atmosphere where everyone, from toddlers to grandparents, was part of the same amazing team. It was magical. We became a powerhouse, winning our first three national burgees (for highest overall points)) in 1987, 1988, & 1989. I deeply admired the older club paddlers, especially my sister Mary, and decided that one day, I wanted to win the nationals in my singles event, just like her. I absolutely loved paddling at Orenda. Club kids spent countless hours on the water, learning new skills, testing our limits, and (equally important) developing relationships with our teammates. When we weren’t actually in boats, we were swimming, playing volleyball, catching frogs, eels, and leeches. Orenda was the perfect place to grow up. Over the years, Orenda has produced five Olympians, and become the cornerstone of their community. I have modeled Petrie after the Orenda I remember. Petrie aspires to the same greatness!
In 1992, my sister and brother-in-law moved on to other coaching jobs, so our family decided to move back to our local canoe club. My mom loved that Cheema was biking distance from our house, so we could get to & from the club by ourselves. Csom Latorovszki, (current Assistant Development Coach for Canoe Kayak Canada), was Cheema’s Head Coach at the time. He had just arrived from Hungary, and I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I tried really hard! With Csom’s help, that first summer I dropped 30 seconds off my 1000m race time.
The following year, I was named to the Canadian Junior Espoir Team, a recognition of my athletic potential that came with much-needed financial support for training camps and race fees. It was a massive turning point for me. For the next two years, all I thought about was going to the Junior Worlds Championships . I became very focused and disciplined. I ate, slept, and dreamed paddling. I would rehearse races in my head before going to sleep every night. I took every practice seriously and I tracked everything in my training diary. Safe to say that during those two years, I became a real athlete, and it changed who I am forever.
At National Team Trials in May 1995, I was amazed when I finally made the team – I was blown away by the fact that I had made the top four in such a strong field of women, but I knew that I had earned it. That summer, racing at the Junior Worlds in Japan was an incredible experience on many levels, and we were very proud to make the finals in both of our teamboat events. Later that summer, at the Canadian National Championships, I won gold and silver in my two singles events and Cheema won the overall burgee. It was beautiful!
I spent the next two years pursuing my dream of competing at the Senior World Championships until, in the spring of 1998, I sustained a career-ending shoulder injury.
Post-paddling: I completed my science degree, found a wonderful man, we had kids, and in the summer of 2011, we moved to Orléans. Our real estate agent kindly took the time to drive my husband and I down to Petrie Island. It was gorgeous! A little pocket of paradise! Soon I discovered that Petrie Island had no recreation programs- what a travesty! It was obvious that what the island desperately lacked was…you guessed it, a canoe club!
Two years later, with the help of Councillor Bob Monette, Friends of Petrie Island, and Rideau Canoe Club, I started a small learn-to-kayak program at Petrie Island. Basically, the kids and I went on adventures and played in our kayaks all day, which, to my mind, is the perfect formula to make young kids fall in love with paddling. By 2015, we had a waiting list and some of the older kids had grown out of our mini-kayaks. Rideau Canoe Club wasn’t interested in running a competitive program at Petrie Island, but it was clear to me that our program needed to grow with our kids. Anik Tremblay (assistant to then MPP Marie-France Lalonde) urged me to start my own club. Rideau generously gifted us the equipment we had been using, and Liz Orton agreed to be Vice-Commodore if I would take the helm as Commodore. Liz is a friend and former national team member, and like myself, she grew up at Orenda, so I knew she would share my vision of the perfect club: community-oriented, and family-friendly. We rounded up a board of directors, joined Canoe Kayak Canada, and incorporated as a not-for-profit in February 2016.
To date, Petrie Island Canoe Club has won several provincial titles and six athletes from our club have competed at the Canadian National Championships, some of whom are currently training to make the 2022 Junior Worlds Team. In 2018, we celebrated two major milestones; we employed our first-ever home-grown coaches, and we installed a boat storage facility on the beach. We have high hopes for continued success in 2021.
Have a great summer! Come Paddle With Us!
Sarah Kennedy, Commodore, Petrie Island Canoe Club