Ashley Card remembers the K1 500-metre race on Lake Banook in Dartmouth during the Canadian Spring Canoe Kayak championships last August. Card was alone in her kayak. There were strong head winds and waves from the lake crested over the boat.
“I was so nervous about it and the waves were a huge part of it,” Card says. “The 500-metre is an excruciating distance. It’s like a long-distance sprint. And everyone is pushing you to go.”
But despite the conditions, Card won the race and became the national champion for the K1 (singles) 500-metre in her age group. (The K in K1 stands for kayak.)
While nerve wracking, those conditions were nothing new to Card, who trains at Maskwa Aquatic Club on Kearney Lake. It’s always windy on that lake, Card says. “I guess I just had the advantage of having that training experience,” she says. “We train in that all the time, so it’s an average day for me.”
Card started paddling at Maskwa when she was 12. Her brother paddled there, so Card joined in on a summer camp, with the insistence of her mother. But she quickly grew to love the sport, eventually giving up basketball to focus on her paddling.
“The paddling itself, the water, the calmness of it,” Card says. “The racing of it, the thrill of it. That’s what I really love.”
Maskwa was founded in 1974. Besides paddling, the club offers programs in swimming, as well as facilities and beach passes for use in the summer. The clubhouse is state-of-the-art. The boathouse is located on Saskatoon Drive. The club is also the gateway to the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes protected wilderness area,
Paddlers from all over the region train here, but the club welcomes beginners, too. The summer program is open to everyone. Beginners learn about canoes, kayaks, singles and team boats. Experienced paddlers can improve on their skill and compete locally and beyond.
The developing high performance program is offered in the fall and spring. This is the program Card takes. It’s for athletes who want to train year-round.
The masters program is open to new and experienced paddlers age 25 and up.
“It’s honestly a second home for me and our coaches there are top notch,” Card says of the club.
Card spent five weeks in Florida this winter, training for a series of national trials and eventually internationals.
“The training camp is a head start for the season,” she says. “Since it’s frozen here, we can’t really train, so we have to go down south.”
While there, she continues with schoolwork, connecting with her teachers from C.P. Allen High School via email.
Jon Pike has been head coach at Maskwa for four years. He’s been a paddling coach since 2010. He was a paddler, too, and competed on the national team. In 2015, Pike won CanoeKayak Canada’s CEO’s Award of Excellence for his coaching. Card calls him, “the best coach in Canada.”
Pike was in Florida with Card and other paddlers for the training. Pike says Card is one of the “most fiercely competitive people I’ve ever met, and in a good way.
“She trains super hard and she races even harder,” he says. “Some people just want it more. And Ashley is someone who wants it more.”
Pike says his goal as coach is a simple one. “Like any coach, I try to be positive and work for the athletes,” he says.
But he also credits the club’s board, staff, and volunteers for focusing on the paddlers and their goals.
“The club is committed to excellence,” he says. “They are committed to making it better. The volunteers never get the credit they deserve, but everybody works hard. They are doing it for the athletes. They are doing it for the right reasons.”
In the fall, she will head to Saint Mary’s University to study business. But she will remain steadfastly focused on paddling, too, with her sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
But she has some simple advice for young paddlers heading to Maskwa this summer to continue or take up the sport: “If you love it, train hard.”