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On March 19, the best freestyle kayaking athletes in the United States went head to head for a coveted spot on the US team for the 2022 ICF Freestyle World Championships in Nottingham, England. While the competition is stressful enough on its own, I had an added level as it was the first time I had competed in a freestyle competition since September of 2019.

USA Freestyle Team Trials: My First Competition in over Two Years

Coming into the team trials, I had no idea what to expect. Having not competed since I was 14, now 17, I had no idea who I would be competing against. In 2018 and 2019, I had been competing regularly in freestyle, so I knew who my competition was and could make a rough estimate of how I would do. This understanding of other competitors completely went out the window for this event. I did not know who I would be competing against nor what their skill level would be. The uncertainty of the junior class made me uneasy, and it caused me to worry about making the team. Though, on the other hand, I was pretty sure the junior class had shrunk significantly since 2019 as most of my previous competition were at least a year older than me, putting them in the mens’ class. Uncertainty of the rest of the juniors’ class was not the only thing that had me stressed out before the competition: very few days on the water also restricted me.

USA Freestyle Team Trials: My First Competition in over Two Years

After COVID-19 caused all freestyle events to be canceled or indefinitely postponed, I slowed down my freestyle hustle and focused mainly on creekboating. Living in Asheville, North Carolina, I was able to spend of time on the Green Narrows which ran nearly every day at great flows, and with the closest, good freestyle feature being over an hour away, I stowed away my playboat for months; I spent a grand total of about 3 weeks in my playboat in 2020 with only half of that being in a proper play hole. 2021 resulted in even less playing as I was fully into creeking, downriver freestyle, and river/creek racing, so I was in my rockstar 4.0 for less than 10 days for the entire year. As team trials grew closer, and I had decided I wanted to get back into freestyle and try to make the team, I found myself dealing with another challenge: school. Even though I attend an online school and make my own schedule, I still have large amounts of work to do and I ended up having very little time to train. Plus, after the 2021 race season, I was dealing with a back injury that kept me out of the water for over a month, and the first month and a half of 2022 for me was filled with traveling. Getting back in my playboat, now the new and improved Rockstar V, was proving to be a difficult task. By the time I hopped back in my playboat, it was less than a month until team trials, and I was unsure if I was going to be able to remaster the tricks I had been able to do consistently 2 years prior. Things only got worse as my training spot, the Nantahala Outdoors Center, was having dam issues, so the river was running on natural flow and another dam that was under construction farther upstream. This meant that water levels were very inconsistent, and we had no idea if we would be able to train. All of these factors molded together left me with 2 days of training before heading to Oklahoma City, the venue for the competition.

In Oklahoma City, I spent every day at the hole the week before the competition, trying to pull together my tricks in order to make a ride. Back at NOC, I had created a setlist of tricks I knew I should be able to hit in the feature, but the competition hole proved to be very different from what I was used to, so I spent the first 4 (out of 5) days relearning my tricks in the feature. To say that I was a little nervous would be an understatement. I was feeling horrible about my rides and had no clue what to throw; I was only consistent on a couple tricks which was infuriating. Something happened though, and my tricks started to come together at the last minute.

On day 5, the last day of training, the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the wind picked up; the weather was absolutely miserable. Despite this, I geared up and pulled out one last session. This short, cold session was exactly what I needed. I landed the tricks I had been failing or taking too long to set up, and I started feeling better about myself. Though I didn’t put together a complete ride, at least one suitable for a competition, I knew I had it in me to throw down a winning ride. Now all that was left was to plan out my rides and wait for the following morning.

USA Freestyle Team Trials: My First Competition in over Two Years

Saturday, March 19, the day I had been waiting for since I watched the 2015 World Championships in Ottawa on Youtube, rolled right up. Feelings of nervousness, excitement, and impatience coursed through me. I just wanted to get it over with! The junior women were the first to go, and I was happy to see two of my friends, Abby Holcombe and MaKinley Kate Hargrove, take spots 1 and 2 on the team. Junior men, my class, were up next. The hole felt more flushy than it had all week, and my first prelims ride was horrible which stressed me out. I knew I had to be relaxed if I wanted to get the ride I wanted, so I tuned out of the noise from the audience and focused on visualizing my tricks. My second ride came around and I landed most of my ride, putting me in first for prelims and giving me my best result to date: 630 points! I felt a lot better going into finals now that I had the advantage of going last, but the team was still to be decided, and I wanted the top spot. My first two rides in finals were subpar, and Levente Gal had thrown down a great ride that I knew I could beat, but I was doubting myself. On my last ride, I landed a 490 point ride, grabbing the first place spot! Though it was not the ride I was hoping for, it gave me the top spot on Team USA.

Through the challenges and uncertainties, I accomplished my long-time dream of making the US freestyle team. I have no intention of going to Nottingham unprepared like I did in Oklahoma. I plan on training harder than ever with the hope of taking home a medal, and though it will be no easy task, I am ready to take on the challenge.