Founded as a legacy program of the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics, the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club has turned into one of the premier training centers for the sport in the country.
Many of the rising stars in the sport now call Gainesville home, choosing to train for the upcoming national and world competitions at the club, while keeping their main focus on qualifying for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“That is the goal we are working for,” said Ian Ross, a native of Washington D.C. who is living in Gainesville. “The goal is Olympics and results at the Olympics. You don’t want to just go, you want to go and get something done.”
The LCKC has won 10 national championships in less than 17 years. Now, the club is eyeing even more titles, especially as the national and world championships approach next month.
“It is growing a lot,” said club head coach Claudiu Ciur, who also serves as the head coach of the U.S. national team for kayaks.
“We are talking about 150 members, from age 8 and up. We have a lot of different activities over the summer. The high-performance team, we train 12 months a year. Now we talk about (how) we are the No. 1 club.”
As a tune-up for next month’s championships, the LCKC sent five of its top competitors to the 2013 Lake Placid International, held July 6-7 in Lake Placid, N.Y. All five competitors won medals in the Senior Division (18-23 years old).
In the Men’s Senior Kayak division, teammates Chris Miller and Stanton Collins won the K2 200- and 1000-meter races. In the Men’s Senior Canoe division, Gainesville’s Ben Hefner and Rob Finlayson joined forces with Ross and Matthew Lam to win the C4 1000-meter race. Hefner and Ross also won the C2 1000-meter race.
“It was just kind of a warm-up, I guess,” said Hefner, a North Hall graduate. “Everyone just shows up and kind of gets some work in before the national and world competitions.”
Miller, Collins, Hefner and Ross and are all members of the U-23 U.S. men’s national team, while Finlayson, 24, is a member of the Senior national team. Canni Ashe is currently a member of the U-23 U.S. women’s national team and calls Lake Lanier one of the best training spots in the country.
“We are definitely spoiled,” Ashe said. “We have been to several clubs around the world, and this is definitely the best. Most people have a river or a canal and we have this whole lake.”
All the members of the U-23 national team will compete in the U-23 World Championships in August in Canada, before participating in the national championships in Oklahoma City later in the month.
Following the national championships, Finlayson, Ross and Ciur will train for three weeks in Germany before participating in the Senior World Championships in late August.
Along with the current members of the U.S. national teams, the LCKC has around 150 members, nearly all based out of Hall County. The club also features a past Olympian, Tim Hornsby, who competed in the 2012 Olympic games in London.
“In only 20 years of the Club, we have a star. He was in the Olympics,” Ciur said. “It is amazing.”
If the members of the national team have anything to say about it, Hornsby won’t be the only Olympian coming out of the LCKC, even if that means devoting almost all of their time to the sport.
“The facility and the lake, it gives you an advantage,” said Finlayson, a Gainesville native. “I was in school. I had just transferred to Georgia Tech and I couldn’t do both, so I chose this.”
In order to reach their ultimate goal of reaching the Olympics, the competitors work out 25 hours each week, performing various training activities that include daily paddle work, an hour of daily cardiovascular work and weight lifting four times a week.
“It is a full-time job. You don’t have time for anything else,” said Hefner, a former member of the U.S. Junior national team. “When you are not here training, you are resting.”
For more information on the LCKC, visit www.lckc.org.