After high-pressure competitions in Oklahoma City and Montreal, Saturday’s Southern Invitational Regatta on Lake Lanier was a chance for local paddlers to loosen up and take a few victory laps.
The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club’s top-tier competitors didn’t have any medals on the line at Saturday’s sprint event, which attracted about 60 paddlers from ages 10 to 60-plus — just points in the Lanier Racing Series and the incentive of a cash prize for the leaders at season’s end.
"It’s pretty much just for fun," said 18-year-old Emily Vinson, who two weeks ago beat out paddlers from Canada, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela to take the first-place medal in the women’s individual 1,000-meter kayak race at the Pan American Games in Montreal.
"There’s no lanes, there’s no international competitors, I can understand the language everyone’s speaking. But this is where it all starts — Saturday morning time trials," she said of the Regatta.
Saturday’s event was the second of six races that LCKC will play host to this year on Lanier. Away from the pressures of international competition, seasoned athletes and young, inexperienced paddlers alike spent time together on the water.
"It’s a very relaxed, fun atmosphere, just giving them an opportunity to go out and race," said Dave Robertson, the coach of LCKC’s traveling team, 18 members of which qualified for the Pan Am Games following a solid showing at the Olympic qualifiers at Oklahoma City in April.
One club member’s Olympic dreams are still very much alive. Morgan House missed Saturday’s meet because he was in Italy, preparing for next weekend’s World Cup competition in Hungary that could mean a berth to Beijing. House’s friends and fellow competitors videotaped messages of encouragement Saturday at the former Olympic venue.
"We’re just saying good luck from Gainesville, we believe in you, go and do it," Robertson said.
"I think he’s going to get the spot," said Vinson, who describes House as one of her role models in the sport. "He has the drive, and he never gives up."
Vinson relished the chance Saturday to race in four-seat boats with younger, up-and-coming paddlers, as she once did rising through the ranks of the club.
"I feel like that’s really important," she said. "It was really cool and a great experience for me when I was younger."
"They need some experience, so that’s what we’re doing here," Robertson said. "We’re just creating some competitive opportunities for area youth."