July 29, 2009 -- Atlanta, GA
After a week of Switzerland, I managed to convince myself that wildwater is something I want to pursue the rest of my paddling career. Being around so many friendly people was probably the best part. Being with the team from other nations, sometimes communication barriers stood in the way of a conversation, but I learned that I didnít need to understand the language to feel close to my peers.
There is something special about the common love of paddling and love of competition that brought us together. It was the feelings that we all felt at the put in, stomachs buzzing with jitters whether you were the best or the slowest, whether you were from the US or Slovakia or any other country. Every one of us felt the same sighs of relief and self triumph as we went past the finish line or the same dizzying excitement as we watched the scoreboard and held our breaths as the clocks timing our teammates and friends ran out. In the midst of competition, I realized that we are all the same no matter what language we speak or what country we come from, because we all experience the same fights, we all experience hard losses and great wins in our careers. It took a strong heart to endure watching the dizzying heartbreaks and ecstatic jubilations all in one breath, and I know Iíve gained a mental edge from it as well.
In many ways we were a young team this year, not necessarily in age but in experience. In the same thought, we were all able to grow together, and a lot of the paddlers this time around know that this was a learning experience for us all. Even though Peter Lutter was the only truly competitive person on our team, we all felt a push within ourselves and managed to draw upon each other to perform at a higher level than we were used to. It was a new feeling to me, I know; not a tingly, touchy-feely kind of feeling, but an intense, exciting feeling that I keep trying to replenish on my own workouts. We were able to feel the team dynamic, which was a constantly encouraging factor in our own performances and we were able to discuss things together that were new or strange to us. Perching on rocks and over bridges, eddied out on the river, sitting at the table at meals, and warming up together at the put in, we felt around each others minds, talking about things such as the lines on the river, an upcoming race, a bad performance, how to approach some of the athletes from other teams, or the futures we envisioned for ourselves. It was a time where we could all feel intimate with one another, comfortable and comforted by the presence of a friend, trusting and learning from one another. I often thought back to solitary early morning paddles back at home, and appreciated every little bit of river time with my teammates and coaches. I appreciated the international feel of the race, the importance not necessarily to gauge my performance against others, but against myself. Every part of me aches for the people who were involved in my first international experience, one that I will never forget. It is so obvious to me that the place I want to be is somewhere that I am representing the great USA, mingling with the other countries, and driving off to the river laughing with my teammates in the back of Maurizioís van. In the midst of the lovely scenery of Buochs, Switzerland and the exciting atmosphere of the racing, it is the people that will always draw me back to the World Championships. I am so excited to see the future of USA Wildwater racing, and I hope to meet new paddlers every year; most of all I hope to introduce them to this feeling that I know is so great!
Haley Popp, 2009 USA Wildwater Junior Team