Kaley Martin would be happy to be considered a pioneer with her pursuits of racing in the canoe when women are eligible to compete for the first time at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Currently, the active member of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club in Gainesville is on track to make that dream a reality as the fastest C1 (one-person flatwater canoe) athlete in the US.
The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club member is excited because she has a real chance of making a run at the Olympics.
That’s quite a compliment to her ability to move fast on top of the water.
However, success nationally is just a small step to where the 19-year-old Cleveland native wants to get in chasing her dreams.
“I really want to be faster internationally,” said Martin, who won senior female canoe paddler of the year in 2016. “I’m pretty fast in America, but I really want to be fast with other people in the world. It’s like the small pond, the bigger pond, the biggest pond, and I want to be in the biggest pond eventually.
“But for right now, I’m still in the little pond.”
In May, she earned a spot on Team USA after setting the second fastest C1 200-meter time ever by a U.S. female at the U.S. Team Trials.
Now, she will be traveling for the next few months to different events in order to gain more experience. She’ll be going to Seattle, Canada, Romania and the Czech Republic.
While in Romania, she will compete in the Under-23 World Championships July 27-30, in hopes of dipping her toes into that bigger pond.
“We have Nationals once a year and then we have team trials,” Martin said. “And that’s it. You don’t get to race any more. So, to get the opportunity to race and get that feeling of racing and adrenaline, it’s so much different than just a little club race.”
With the fastest time in the U.S., it may seem like Martin has been canoeing all of her life. However, that’s not the case. She only started three years ago when she was 16. She admits she was a little old to pick up the sport, but after seeing her sister on the water, she knew she had to try it.
She put aside her childhood dream of being a professional soccer player and started kayaking and quickly switched over to the canoe. She wasn’t able to race in the younger leagues, though, so she was thrown into serious competition right away.
That didn’t faze her.
She’s always been an overachiever. Around the same time she started canoeing, she started college at Truett-McConnell University in her hometown of Cleveland. Since then, she’s had to put college on hold to train, but plans to go back to finish her associate’s degree soon.
“I train two times a day, Monday through Saturday,” Martin said. “I go morning and evening, or early morning, then morning. But this summer I’ll go three times a day for two months.”
With all the training, Martin should be well prepared for a run at making the Summer Games in a few years, but she won’t say whether or not she wants to go. Her coaches want her to, but her mother knows it may be difficult.
“We would love to see a change in the U.S. with funding for all national-level athletes,” said her mother, Kim Martin.
“We see these senior athletes who quit because they can’t date, they’re living in their parent’s basement.
“And then you see Canadians who come down for trials and they have families and kids.”
For most other countries, this kind of sporting event is an actual job. But the U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t recognize it as that. So all the funding for travel, equipment and anything related to the sport comes out of the athletes’ pockets.”
It creates a difficult situation for them and forces many of them out of competition. Martin is hoping it doesn’t do that to her, but she’s nervous it may come down to that kind of choice before she gets a chance to go to the Olympics.
“I’m spending so much money this summer to go and race, so when I get back I have to get a job and I want to go to school,” Martin said. “And I want to pick up my training, that way I can be a bigger fish in the pond. But I can’t do it all.”
Regardless of how much it costs and how much longer she’ll be able to keep at it, she is enjoying every second of the experiences she’s been presented. And at just 19, she’s working hard toward making the leap into the bigger ponds, whether that means the Olympics, or not.
“It’s kind of like a birthday wish,” Martin said. “I can’t say it. I just want to be as good as I can be.”