BORN IN A BOAT
Both of my parents were professional kayakers so I’ve been on the water my whole life, even before birth. They competed at the World Championships, the Olympics and then, after retiring, they became international coaches for Team Australia. Growing up in the sporting world, surrounded by incredible athletes and experiencing the Olympic movement first-hand really inspired me. I was naturally very sporty and competitive but that planted the seed.
TEAM AUSTRALIA ALL THE WAY
My mother is French, my father is British, I was born in France and we emigrated to Australia when I was 4 so I could have competed for several countries. However, having been brought up in the Australian sporting system and learned to paddle on the Olympic course, it was a no-brainer. I felt Australian and wanted to race for them. That was the best decision because I was 18 when I qualified the London 2012 Olympics. That would never have happened if I’d picked Team France or Team GB because the competition to get on their teams is huge; whereas, in Australia, canoeing isn’t as popular so the competition, especially on the girls’ team, wasn’t as difficult. There are also lots of country-specific regulations on competing. For example, the French won’t allow you to race at The Junior World Championships until you’re 17 but, as an Australian, I won my first World Title aged 15 so I feel very lucky to be part of Team Australia. It definitely opened a lot of doors for me and meant that I was able to gain much more experience and progress much quicker.
‘I love the variety of canoe training. Every course is completely different, I get to be outdoors enjoying nature and I’m discovering new cultures all the time.’
FAVOURITE PLACES TO TRAVEL
I’ve travelled with Team Australia since 2010. It’s been incredible. We’re always chasing the rivers and rapids so we get to visit parts of the world that most people wouldn’t even consider visiting because they’re not typical ‘tourist destinations.’ The same applies to other sports. For example, the swimmers always train in swimming pools but canoe training is exciting. One minute, we’re training in the Pyrenees Mountains, the next we’re on a rapid in the middle of a tiny Spanish town or racing down an artificial course like Lee Valley in London.
RURAL SPAIN. Hidden away in the sleepy little farmer’s towns, there are some amazing natural rivers and white-water courses. You’d never find them on a tourist map - they’re just something you’d stumble upon - but I love them. They’re such cool little cities with big markets every Saturday, the people are lovely and friendly and there’s such a strong community spirit. Whenever we race there, everybody comes down to watch the kayaking because it’s in the middle of the city and it’s just a lovely experience.
PISUEÑA RIVER, NORTHERN SPAIN. This is my favourite river. My friends and I did a 7-hour river trip where we started at one point and paddled down this beautiful, versatile river. It has some really big rapids, some easier rapids where you can chill out and the terrain is incredible. We were surrounded by fantastic snow-topped mountains, the views were really spectacular and it was so much fun. Then, at lunchtime, we stopped at this little Spanish restaurant where the lady cooked a really delicious feast for us. That’s probably another reason why it’s my favourite place: I love food.
LEE VALLEY, LONDON. This is my favourite artificial course. It was built for the Olympics and is one of the best and toughest courses, simply because it’s so powerful and big. I have some good memories there.
CANADA & THE USA have some incredible white-water rapids.
‘The London 2012 Olympics was very special for me. It was my first games and where I won my silver medal.’
THE BIGGEST MYTH ABOUT CANOE
The biggest misconception about canoe slalom is that it’s upper-body based but it’s actually whole body. Whilst we’re paddling with our arms, we’re also driving our body, turning it continuously and using our core to perform the moves; and, meanwhile, our legs are pushing on footrests. That’s a vital part of our transmission because it determines how fast we can go off one stroke or hard on another. Our hips also do a lot of work, as do our knees. They’re locked in so that we can hold the boat, lean and turn.
THEY TOLD ME WOMEN SHOULD’T CANOE BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM INFERTILE #EasternEuropeanCommittee #Seriously
The most stupid ‘advice’ I’ve heard was from one of the Eastern European committees. In one of the categories I compete in, we use a single blade and kneel in the canoe. It’s quite a recent event so they’re still tweaking the regulations. As athletes, male and female, we compete all around the world. It’s never been a problem but some of the Eastern European countries can be quite macho and have a tendency to look down on women in sport so, for this category, they saw an opportunity to voice their opinion and tried to say that women can’t canoe because it has a negative impact on their childbearing abilities, which is complete b***s**t - that would have nothing to do with it. This is a long-term problem though because I remember starting out in Seed 1 aged 14/15 and, when I visited some of those countries, they used to say the girls couldn’t compete in Seed 1. They didn’t even try to hide it. Sometimes they’d bring up this pathetic ‘cover up’ reason but most times they just say ‘Only the men are good enough to do Seed 1’ and that was it. It’s incredible! It wasn’t advice at all really; more something to stop us from doing it but, being quite feisty, it spurred us on even more. We just thought ‘We’ll show them. We’ll do Seed 1. We’ll score higher than them and prove gender has nothing to do with it!’
‘You know it could affect their fertility just as much. Probably more! Haha’
THE BEST ADVICE
It’s cliché but the best advice is to keep it simple and do what your know how to do. There are so many variables in canoeing; so many things can go wrong so you constantly need to consider (and counter) different aspects affecting your run… the water, the weather, the gates, your kayak, your competitors… When you’re at the Olympics or World Championships, it’s easy to get carried away thinking about all of these things but, at the end of the day, you’ve got to trust your instincts and do what you know how to do.
‘I’ve done a little bit of sprint but the slalom just really did it for me. I love the adrenalin rush. I love going down the rapids and I love the variety. That’s the biggest motivator for me. It’s always different, there are rivers all over the world where we race and every race is different.’
SPRINT SLALOM VS. REGULAR SPRINT CANOE
Sprint canoeing is when you’re in a straight line, competing head-to-head. There are usually 8 kayaks competing at distances of 200m, 500m and 1000m and everybody sprints to the end. For canoe slalom, everybody races down the white-water rapids whilst negotiating 18-25 gates. Some of the gates are green, meaning that you have to go downstream through them; and some are red, meaning that you have to come back up stream though them. It’s a lot more exciting.
There are different categories of canoe slalom. One is in a kayak (i.e. you’re seated and paddling with a double blade) and the other is canoe (i.e. when you’re kneeling and paddling with a single blade).
‘The best thing about canoeing and kayaking is that they’re an adventure. They take you to places you might not be able to access by foot.’
FAVOURITE ATHLETE TO COMPETE AGAINST
Spain’s Maialen Chourraut. She won the gold at Rio 2016, the bronze at London 2012 and, over the past 4 years, we’ve become great friends. My favourite moments were when we were on the podiums at London 2012 (I won sliver, she won bronze) and Rio 2016 (I won bronze, she won gold). I think she’s the best athlete on tour at the moment. She’s absolutely tiny (1.5m max. and 55kg) but very strong and technically very good so I love training with her. We’re both quite competitive so she gives me a good run for my money.
‘You get on the start line and it’s every woman for herself so, even if you’re friends, you’ve got to try to beat the others. It gets pretty competitive’.
‘When we race, you don’t notice everyone around you. It’s so fast and the water’s crashing all around you so you just try to get to the end of the course as quickly and successfully as you can. That’s what’s great about our sport: you can easily focus on what you have to do, rather than on what your competitors are doing because you can’t see them or their runs. In that regard, you’re not lining up to try to beat a certain person; you’re lining up to do the best run you can.’
ON WORKING WITH RED BULL & GETTING ACTIVE WITH KIDS…
Participating in sport has so many benefits so it’s hugely important to encourage kids to get active and create healthy habits early in life. Not only does it keep them healthy but it also gives them confidence, affects concentration, happiness, reduces stress and many other areas. That’s why I love working with Red Bull. They’re very pro-active in this area. For example, they run a Junior Sports Star Award where the winners get to spend the day with an Olympian. I won it when I was 16 so it’s nice how things have gone full circle and now I’m the one teaming up with them to encourage other kids to get active in sport too. We held a Rafting With an Olympian Day before Rio 2016 where I took 20 young athletes down the rapids and spoke to them about my career, goals, stories from the Olympics etc. and they do it with other sports too. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by athletes so I know how important it is to have someone tangible to connect your dreams to. It makes you think ‘They did it. I can too.’
AN OLYMPIC ARMY OF AUSSIE TEENS
I was an ambassador for the Youth Olympic Games 2014 and as the Australian mentor I had to take 100 young Aussie athletes to the Youth Olympics. It was really fun. I was like their big sister so I got to connect with our future Olympians and help them with their competitions, which was cool. It was hilarious because there were 100 ambassadors from all around the world. Some had 4 athletes, some had 10 and suddenly I arrived with my army of 100. Ours was by far the biggest team and I had to lead it. Some were really hard to keep under control. I mean, you can imagine… you’ve got 100 16-18 year olds (plus the other athletes) at a youth Olympics festival so it can get pretty wild. I had 100 teens whereas some other countries had 4, 8 or max. 20 so, yes, let’s just say it was pretty interesting.