Rushmere-raised Olympic hopeful has paddling passion

Haley Daniels, competitive paddler, shares her story

Olympic hopeful Haley Daniels might have an Alberta postal code, but the heart of her paddling passion was born in the Columbia Valley.

Ms. Daniels spent her childhood summers and many, many weekends throughout the year in the tiny Valley enclave of Rushmere off Westside Road. Amidst the more ‘house-like’ homes around her, the cabin her grandfather had built was a “quaint cabin.” They did not even have running water until recently. While her Rushmere neighbours were powering around Lake Windermere on their motorboats, the Daniels family was playing on the water in kayaks and canoes.

With both parents being “outdoorsy people” – her dad actually built fibreglass kayaks when he was her age, the family spent a great deal of time outside, adventuring on and off the water. Ms. Daniels and her brother grew up canoeing on the lake – fishing off the canoe’s sides, traveling to the other shorelines to play, traversing the wetlands and more.

“That’s really where I started learning to paddle,” she says of her Rushmere childhood. “It was how I fell in love with being on the water – that simplicity of powering on your own … I learned how to paddle on Lake Windermere and that passion turned in my my career as a professional white water paddler.”

As a kid, Ms. Daniels admits, she was jealous of her Rushmere neighbour’s motorboats, begging her parents to buy a boat like all her friends.

“But now as an adult, some of my fondest memories are going out in the wetlands, on the Columbia River,” she remarks. “When you are propelling yourself, you look at everything around you – you’re very aware of your surroundings.”

When she was a teenager, she got into whitewater paddling, and now knows that some of the best paddling in Canada can be found in this Valley. During high river season, the river in Spillimacheen is “exceptional,” she describes, and notes she comes back for the Toby Creek Whitewater Race every year.

“There’s a lot of magic in the Valley,” Ms. Daniels reflects.

Ms. Daniels is on Team Canada, which provides a small portion of the money needed to train. It costs her $80,000 per year to compete (including travel, coaching, physiotherapy, equipment etc.), so she is always looking for sponsorship and ways to pay for the season. The community of Rushmere helped support Ms. Daniels’ season financially this year and she has their logo on her boat, dubbed the Rushmere Canoe.

Ms. Daniels is one of the top three Canadians in the sport of women’s canoe slalom, and now has her sights set on Tokyo 2020 – the next summer Olympics. Getting to this point in her career has taken years of dedication to the sport. Now, one year out from the Olympics, Ms. Daniels says she is not focusing on the possibility of reaching the Olympics all the time, but it is definitely on her mind.

“You always want to envision that you’re going. I don’t think about it every moment because it would be exhausting.”

The Pioneer interviewed Ms. Daniels between two big events – she just competed in Olympic trials, where she re-qualified for the national team. Then three days after the interview, she was headed off to Europe for the World Cup championships, which are the first steps to Olympic qualifiers. By March, where competitions wrap up in Brazil, she will know whether she will be headed to Tokyo or not.

It is a big year for female canoe athletes. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be the first time that they will be allowed to compete.

“We as a collective – all the women’s canoeists, both flatwater and whitewater, pushed for gender equality,” she says.

While they did begin a class action suit to change the rules, Ms. Daniels speculates it was not the legal threat that changed the International Olympic Committee’s mind. It was the wave of public opinion shifting as they raised public awareness about gender inequality in the sport. While she is obviously happy that women’s canoe racing is finally recognized as a legitimate sport to include in the Olympics, she says it was sad that it took so long too.

“We wanted to be in for London (Olympics 2012), and Rio (Olympics 2016), and advocated for both. But the international committee had its feed in the sand, and was dragging to get it in.”

With Tokyo on her mind, Ms. Daniels continues to train and, most importantly, to focus on having a positive mindset.

“I have competitions from now until March. I’m staying healthy and rested and being on the water as much as possible,” she explains.

When Ms. Daniels is not on the water, she likes to cross-train through sports such as mountain biking and hiking. She also does motivational speaking, encouraging the younger generation to get active and involved. To learn more about Ms. Daniels or follow her journey, visit www.haleydaniels.ca.

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