Heading into the 2015 season, Canadian para-canoeist Dave Waters believes he in better shape than ever and is keen to impress at August’s World Championships in Milan, Italy.
The 46-year-old only took up the sport six years ago but at the 2012 International Canoe Federation (ICF) World Championships in Poland he won a silver medal and followed it up last year with a bronze at the World Cup meeting in Szeged, Hungary.
“At 40 I felt and looked 50 and at 46 I feel and look 36!” explained father of three Waters. “When I was 40 my wife, Andrea, a former paddler and international classifier, suggested that maybe I would like to try para-canoe. I should thank her every day for that friendly push!”
Aged 22, Waters was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT), a hereditary disease that affects peripheral nerves, both motor and sensory. It started to limit the activities he was undertaking and before long he was spending most of his life hiding the fact that he had CMT and finding excuses for inactivity.
All that has changed however thanks to para-canoe and Waters now follows a rigorous training regime to ensure he is one of the world’s best at para-canoe.
“Right now I work out every lunch hour, after work four days a week, and all day Saturdays; I typically take off Sunday.
“I do put a lot of kilometres on my car, about 50,000 a year. I’m away roughly five weeks a year and when I am home I do between 12 and 14 training sessions of one form or another each week.
“It couldn't be done without an understanding family, a weekly plan and multiple facilities. My wife and three kids are remarkable; they put up with a lot, especially my wife!”
Getting into the sport six years ago posed its challenges, but now Waters not only has great form, he also radiates positivity and drive.
“Having a neurological disease, it is sometimes difficult for people to understand the depth of the difficulties that I face - time management, equipment and acceptance.
“I will admit I did it at the start out of physical necessity but came to love it. I love the water, controlling the boat, the peace that it brings when you’re the last one on the water when the sun is setting. You can hear each stroke hit the water, how it makes me feel physically and I love getting up on the line going head-to-head against the best people in the world.”
At last August’s World Championships in Moscow, Russia, Waters finished sixth in the final of the men’s V1 (TA), a race which saw Australia’s Curtis McGrath take the gold.
“I was never as pleased with myself as I was after the final in Moscow. This may not make sense especially after finishing third in 2012, but the sport has come a long way.
“I put a lot of work and effort into being ready. The heat and semi did not go as well as I would have liked, I may have finished sixth, but it was the single best effort I have given to date in a race. The goal is 2016, it's the effort that matters, not the end result.”
Waters hopes he can translate his current form into qualification for Rio 2016 when the sport makes its long awaited Paralympic debut. The first opportunity for athletes to qualify for the Games is at this year’s World Championships which take place between 19 and 23 August.
Waters’ top tip for taking up para-canoe.
1. Never except no
2. Ask as many questions as possible
3. Accept constructive criticism
4. Ask for help whenever possible
5. Don’t seek praise, congratulations or recognition but embrace it when it comes
6. Enjoy the journey! Understand that reaching your ultimate goal is important but not as important as understanding that you made the effort and tried your best!