by Julian Potvin-Bernal
David Hearn, now 44, was one of the fastest whitewater slalom single canoeists (C1) in the world through the 80's and early 90's. He won gold at the World Championships in 1985 and ‘95 and earned silver in 1979, ‘81, ‘83, ‘87 and ‘89. He retired at age 42 and now coaches C1's in the northeastern US. I'm told he used to be called "Mr. Clean", because of his consistently clean runs.
In mid-September 2003, I received an email from David, asking if I wanted to participate in a training camp for the American C1 racers that he was organizing. David said even though I'm Canadian, I have been participating in many of the races held in the eastern U.S., and as a "neighbour", I was welcome at the training camp. Of course I told him I would love to. So I planned a trip with my dad, Joseph, for the weekend of the 17-19 October.
During the camp, we paddled twice a day, usually on the "Feeder Canal" in Bethesda, Maryland, but also on the Dickerson Whitewater Course beside the Mirant Power Plant, and also in Potomac River at Great Falls and Little Falls. Seven paddlers participated in the camp. Four of us including me, Benn Fraker, Chad Lewis, and Nick Lomas are between 13 and 15 years old. The other three, Marshall, Kurtis, and Trevor, are 17, 18, and 31 respectively.
David has a very different coaching style from that of my own coach, Michal Staniszewski. During this camp, at least, I found that David put more emphasis on getting every training run fast, rather than separating our training into speed in one exercise, then putting full attention to technique in another exercise while going slow. David times every run in every exercise.
To give an example, on the first day David had us do a really cool exercise. We set a short course on the Feeder Canal, then ran a competition by adding each paddler's time, penalty seconds, plus the number of strokes, to get our scores. We each paddled as fast as we could, but of course, technique and boat placement were the key to getting as few strokes as possible. So we didn't actually go very fast, even though time was still part of the exercise. In training with Michal, our technique-only exercises are for close attention to technique without spending so much attention on time, and this leads to more discussion about the details of our technique.
Which approach is better? That's hard to say. Both speed and technique are always important, and I'm glad for the opportunity to spend a few days learning from a world-class C-boater with a different coaching style. One thing I would suggest to David for the next camp is to add a full-length race on the last day. It would be nice to build up to the final race, and this could be an exciting way to finish.
One of my favourite training exercises during the camp was one we did in the cooling water that flows out of the power plant in Dickerson, one hour outside of Washington. This artificial course is called the Dickerson Whitewater Course, and paddlers must be members of the Bethesda Center of Excellence (BCE) to use it. We did a "brokens" session, which means we do a full course in sections. Paddling there is very inviting because the water is really warm, so it doesn't matter if you get wet on a cold rainy day, which it was! (By the way, for insurance reasons you need special card to get into the Dickerson course because it is inside the Mirant property. Unfortunately, two of
the paddlers brought cards that had expired, so they couldn't paddle that afternoon. Remember if you're ever planning to paddle at Dickerson, to check the date on your BCE card!)
I also had a great time at a play session on the Potomac River through Great Falls Park. We paddled upstream to a spot called "Rocky Island" with a wave that would call any paddler in his or her boat! It was so wide that it carried three surfing slalom C1's on it at once, not to mention the loads of crazy enders it produced.
This is the first time I've been in a training camp with several experienced C1 paddlers, and because of this, I noticed a few things. For example, I'm a "lefty" and paddle on the left side of my canoe, and almost all the paddlers in the US except for Kurtis are "righties". It's amazing how different this is. You can have a course that's pretty easy for a righty but really tricky for a lefty. It's almost as if there should be two categories. I also noticed that there is strength in size. Benn Fraker is 14, but he looks 15 or even older because he's quite big and has lots of muscle. He's got great technique, but I think it was also because of his size that he was able to achieve almost the same times as Trevor who is 31.
I feel very lucky to have been invited to this camp, being the only Canadian there. It's really nice to be able to train with other C1's, to learn from people in my own category. I've never really had other young experienced C1 racers in the same type of boat as me, pushing me ahead in training, and getting pushed by me. Back at the Pumphouse in Ottawa, that's changing now that Spencer and Cam have moved to C1. It was also helpful to get training with different coaching styles. And of course, it's always good getting to know different rivers.
Julian Potvin-Bernal, C1 Cadet
Quebec Provincial Elite Whitewater Slalom Team
Member, Club Kayakogak & Ottawa River Runners
Julian, Nick, Benn, Marshall, Chad at the Feeder Canal, October 2003
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Last updated: January 18, 2006