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Top athletes looking to make US squad at Canoe and Kayak Nationals on Lake Lanier
19 local athletes will compete at Lake Lanier Olympic Park
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Ikaika's Kalei Kaho'okele wins the Senior Men K1 1000m Heat 2 race on April 28, 2016, during day one of the 2016 USACK Sprint National Team Trials at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue.

US Canoe/Kayak Flatwater National Sprint Team Trials
When: Today and Sunday
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park
Cost to attend: Free
For more information, go online to www.lckc.org

There’s a lot of work that goes into hosting an event at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, but the hardest part may be getting the 19 local athletes who are competing to have the right mindset as the event begins.

The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club will host the two-day 2017 USA Canoe/Kayak Flatwater Sprint National Team Trials, starting today, for the second year in a row. The event will include athletes from around the country, all hoping to earn a spot on the national squad.

Kalen Scholz had been around the LCKC for over seven years, working as the developmental coach training younger athletes until she was promoted to head coach and program director in October of 2016. That makes this her first national team trials as a head coach, and helping the athletes remember this is an actual competition isn’t easy.

“When you go to a different place to compete, you’re in that mindset of ‘I’m here to compete,’” Scholz said. “But when you’re at home it can be difficult to get yourself into a mindset where you’re ready to race.”

Scholz says even though that’s a difficulty, the advantages still outweigh it.

LCKC paddler Farran Smith, 17, will compete in the senior women’s kayak single (K1) 500 meter and the junior K1 200 meter this weekend. She’s been doing this since she was 9 after watching her older brother, Emerson, so she’s familiar with the pressure that comes during a national team trial.

Having the event on Lake Lanier is one of those advantages her coach talks about. Smith agrees since the buoys for the event have been set up on the water for about a month, so there has been plenty of time to practice.

“On race day, I know exactly what I’m supposed to do and exactly when and what everything around me is going to look like,” Smith said.

Using that advantage, she’s hoping to earn her fourth spot on the Junior World Championships.

North Hall High graduate Stanton Collins, 22, has been to every Under-23 World Championship since 2013. He’s also been to six Senior World Cups and two Senior World Championships. For him, this is a pretty routine competition after training every day for the past two years.

Collins, along with Aaron Mullican, 22, both took off of school and work over the past two years to train, in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Rio Summer Games. While they both missed the cut, the training has helped them prepare for events like this one.

Even though this isn’t as big of a race as last year’s when Collins and Mullican tried to qualify for Rio, it’s hard to get their head around a national team trial on Lake Lanier.

“It’s a little weird,” said Collins, who will be competing in the senior men’s K1 1000 meter and 200 meter. “But honestly, I’m pretty happy that trials are here because I like this course, it’s cheaper and we’re used to it. It’s kind of home field advantage for us.”

Other than a familiarity with the course, the environment in general will be an advantage for the local athletes. There will be athletes from all over the country visiting Gainesville this weekend. While these visitors may not be used to the heat or humidity, the local athletes train in it every day.

Despite those advantages, the local athletes are taking the race seriously as they try to get their mindsets prepared for trials. They always know the possibility of the unexpected when it comes to competition.

“Even though we’ve made the team, pretty much every year, something could go wrong,” said Mullican, who will be competing in the senior men’s K1 1,000 meter and 200 meter. “Like if our boat breaks or we get incredibly ill the day of the race. There’s always those small things that could go wrong.”

But for Scholz, after helping the athletes focus for an event in their hometown, she’s excited to see their hard work pay off.

She’s confident some of her high-performance athletes will be traveling to places like Hungary, Serbia, Romania and the Czech Republic this summer to compete with the national teams, and she’s also excited about the experience the younger athletes will gain through a national team trials event.

“It’s a big deal,” Scholz said. “I’m really looking forward to how all the athletes do after a hard winter of training. I’m excited to see how they perform and who makes the teams.”

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