Local representation at the Pan American Games is just another feather in the cap for the athletes the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club produces.
Chris Miller and Stanton Collins, both North Hall High graduates, will represent the United States in the men’s two-person kayak, 1,000-meter race.
The Pan American Games, which are sanctioned by the US Olympic Committee, start Saturday in Welland, Ontario, Canada — just minutes from the U.S. border at Niagra Falls. Also competing is 2012 Olympian Tim Hornsby in the K-1, 200, who got his start training with the LCKC. Coaching the six flatwater sprint athletes for the U.S. is LCKC coach Claudiu Ciur.
“This is a great opportunity for these kids,” said Ciur, who has been with the LCKC since 2008. “All the hard work they’ve put into training has paid off.”
Making it to this event is the biggest accomplishment so far for both Collins and Miller, who have worked in the same boat in the two-person event for about three years now. Described by Miller as a ‘mini Olympics,’ making it to the Pan Am Games was a grueling process.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation in the K-2, 1,000, the two Gainesville natives had to make it through U.S National Team Trials in Oklahoma City, and Pan American Championships in the summer of 2014 in Mexico City. Athletes who are part of the kayak events are staying at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario.
The LCKC contingent arrived in Canada just four days ago to begin preparing their bodies for competition. Leading up to the event, they trained with Ciur in his home country of Romania for six weeks, going on the water “3 or 4 times a day.”
Carrying six athletes from the U.S., Ciur said they are going against teams from approximately 15 other North and South American nations in Canada. This is a stepping stone for Collins and Miller, who hope to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
After placing fourth in the K-2, 1,000 last year at the Pan Am Championship, Miller and Collins are eyeing a top-three spot in Canada.
Miller and Collins won the same race this year at the U.S. National Team Trials in Oklahoma City. After the Pan Am Games, they’ll return to Romania for another training session, according to Ciur. Then in August, it will be time for Collins and Miller to travel to the World Championships in Milan, Italy.
After qualifying heats and semifinal races for Miller and Collins at the Pan Am Games on Saturday, they hope to make the cut for the finals scheduled for Monday.
“We’re very excited for this opportunity to compete at the Pan Am Games,” said the 21-year-old Collins. “This is one of the steps we have to make eventually make the Olympics.”
In 2016, Gainesville will host canoe and kayak events for the Pan American Championships from May 18-21 at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.