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By Emily Jackson

Hey Everyone! I am on my home back from Kenya! This time I went to Africa without my play boat and took on the task of flying with a slalom boat! I was invited with 6 other athletes to participate in a training camp with Chris Weingard, who has been the rest of the athletes coach and mentor for quite a few years. It was different going on a trip with people I didn’t know very well and being coached by someone other than my dad, boyfriend or brother. I wasn’t even sure at first whether I should go with all the violence but I had been to Uganda during elections as well and knew it couldn’t be much worse. Lucky for us we were in a super secure area and never once saw the effects of the violence.

The first week we got there was interesting for me. There seemed to be too much to work on at once and I had so much to learn. I knew the basics of slalom but I didn’t know enough to be really good at it. I started picking things up slowly one at a time and was surprised by how much I had learnt just in the first week. My abs haven’t been so sore in a long time.

We were supposed to go to Masinga Dam where most of the flat water and rowing qualifiers were held, as well as where the slalom was supposed to be held. But the water was too high so we stayed in the town of Sagana which is about an hour and a half outside of Nairobi. We stayed at a place called Savage Camp which had amazing food, great tents and the staff was incredibly nice. I had the pleasure of getting to know the staff very well. They were all very nice and seemed very supportive of our training.

The course had around 4-5 main rapids but there were a lot of different eddies and channels to choose from. Its crazy how many different slalom moves you can do with only a few gates, or even just one gate for that matter.

The second week we started timing things more and doing more endurance as well as technique. The first week was really seeing where people were at and how to fix all their little bad habits, or in my case a lot of bad habits. I won most of the timed challenges but was always on my toes. The girls in the group all had been doing slalom for a while longer then me and they all seemed much more smooth and glided much better than I would. Chris would tell me I am too much like a man and need to go easy on the muscle and learn to have more femininity. I am still working on this concept but I was doing much better by the end of the week.

Before the week was over we took two days off to go see what Masinga Dam was like and watch a day of the flat water races. I tried to paddle the flat water boats and I think with practice I could be much better those boats were so tippy. Just staying right side up was like a permanent ab balancing act. I had also never paddled with a paddle that had such a large off set and it made it all the more interesting when I would go to brace and it would slice through the water. Luckily I never fell out, I was way to scared of the hippos to let my self slip. All over the shore there were hippo tracks. Every morning the guards would go out and drop dynamite into the water to scare them off. It apparently didn’t keep them from coming back at night though.

I met a couple very interesting flat water kayakers. Some were very nice, and others were a bit too nice. I started saying I was married and that worked for most of them but a few responded with I don’t mind. It was really awkward.

We later went on a safari in a mutatu (van) and only really got it stuck once. We saw a couple elephant, some hippos, zebras and a large herd of giraffe. Once we returned we started packing up to head home to Sagana Camp. We got back and all the other slalom boaters from all the other African Nations started arriving. This made the shower room seem very interesting. The event finally felt like it was starting. We had training times for the last day before the race but mine was cut short since I was the lucky one who got to pee in a cup representing the US. It took me 3 hours to have to pee since they got me right after I peed and I couldn’t go anywhere. After 3 hours I peed and was on the verge of not having it pass because it was close to being too diluted. This terrified me because I knew it would take another 3 hours at least for me to pee again. But because I had a good sense of humor and hung out with the drug testers, they let it pass.

The race was the African Qualifiers for the Olympics. It was cool because the Kenyan’s didn’t have any slalom racers so Lionel from France came and coached them. He taught them everything the needed to know to get them ready for the race. By the time we went there it was more getting them excited and giving them a few pointers. We had fun bonding with the group and I enjoyed working with them during the day and doing the conga line with them at night.

The next day was race day and I was feeling so nervous. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Everyone was quiet and meditating and I like to get loud right before my events so there I was being a goof loudly while everyone else stared at me silently, slowly I started getting them into the groove when they started singing some hip hop songs with me. Women had the largest class. It was the first time I have every competed and had more women than men in a class.

My first run was okay and put me in second. I touched two gates but had a pretty solid run. The lady in first was from Nigeria originally but lives in France. She was also a flat water racer and the gates had a lot of flats so she was killing it. She was beating me by over 10 seconds. The gates were to be easy because they wanted the Kenyans to make all the gates. I knew it would take a lot to catch up to here and knew touching gates wasn’t going to help so I focused on how to make the gates maybe not as fast but clean. This worked well for me and I didn’t have a single touch and my raw time was even faster because I paddled with my weight very far forward. The Nigerian girl didn’t have quite as fast of a second run putting her in second. I was super excited to have done the course clean since my biggest thing is hitting gates. This made me very happy and I was over loaded with joy.

I am looking forward to paddling in more slalom races and hope to make it more common in my schedule, who knows maybe I will even get to go to the Olympic qualifier for the states!

Happy Paddling!
Emily Jackson