Alumni Spotlight – The Power of Camaraderie and Connection through Nationals

Posted By: Canoe Kayak Canada

Our story is not unique. There have been many National Champions in numerous events, disciplines and age classes over the years and many of them still connect as lifelong friends.

Many of us, like most Canadians at a young age, hoped we would play in the NHL one day.  Then my brother invited some of our hockey team down to the West Rouge Canoe Club to do some off-season training. The rest is history.  Canoeing was immediately a first love.  It was a community, a social club, and a sports club all rolled into one.  It challenged us.

For a lot of us our first Nationals experience was in Winnipeg in 1972, not long after we started paddling and we thought for a brief minute or two that we had won a bronze medal but soon found out we had been disqualified.  It might have discouraged many, but most of this ragtag group of teenagers came back the following year to form a Junior Men’s War Canoe.

The crew had no real stars, well maybe one, Steve Coupland who in 1971 won Juvenile C1 silver, then won gold in the same event in 1972.

1973 was a great year. Not only were we an amazing crew, but the camaraderie I think helped us squeak out the win over a strong Banook crew.

Fifty years have passed since that win, and the friendship that connects us because of those shared experiences in 1973 still brings us together annually.  There is much laughter, teasing and friendly jabs at each other. The memories have taken on a life of their own as we repeat the same stories over and over again as if we were telling them for the first time.  With enthusiasm we add details that were missing from the last rendition of our accomplishment. Quickly we fall into old habits and start calling each other by our old nicknames.  Mine shall go unrecorded in this article.

There is no question that paddling continues to be an important part of many of our lives, as well as some of our children’s, and even life partners.  Active on and off the water, there are World Champions in Dragon Boat, National Officials, Volunteers, an Olympic Coach and High Performance Director, Committee Chairs and even a Past President of Canoe Kayak Canada.

All this would not have been possible had it not been for that day we walked into the West Rouge Canoe Club and met our mentor Glen Benison who is still competing today. He was an awesome coach and friend who managed to instill a sense of pride and direction to a bunch of skinny kids, that we still carry today.

We have lost a few members over the years, but they are not forgotten.  RIP Randy and Jim. Of the remaining 13 crew members six to eight of us still get together annually.

Our 50th was no exception. To our fellow crew members whose paths have taken them elsewhere in life, let it be known that we still talk about you and remember you fondly…ok there is some laughter and some friendly jabs in your absence 😀

The motto of Canadian Canoe Association / Canoe Kayak Canada is “per aqua ad fraternitatem” (through the waters to friendship) and never has it been more true than our initiation to this amazing sport and the opportunity to start a lifelong friendship with this great group of guys.   Thanks for your friendship and thanks for the memories.

Written and submitted by Graham Barton