My Florida Experience by Abigail Ndegwa

My Florida Experience

By Abigail Ndegwa

This March, I had the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks training with various clubs under the Canoe Kayak Canada in Florida. Despite the rocky start with multiple delays, flight cancellations, and the stress of rebooking, the extra 22 hours to travel to Merritt Island proved to be worth it. Upon arrival, my teammates and I were greeted by one of the senior athletes from our assigned houses. I had the pleasure of meeting my roommates who I would spend the next 15 days with - Kristiane Free, Julia Demchuk, Abigail Pippard, and Maddy Schmidt.
Almost immediately on my first day of paddling, I encountered six manatees and thirteen dolphins. Paddling alongside these intelligent creatures remains one of my favourite memories of the Main Chanel and Sykes Creek. Exploring the waterways, I also encountered multiple shipwrecks, jellyfish, and alligators.

The camp provided perfect opportunities to strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones with athletes from around Canada. I met several new people and had the chance to learn about their experiences training at their home clubs. I formed bonds with two athletes from the Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club, who happened to be at similar speeds as me. We shared stories about our training methods and enjoyed hours of unforgettable fun during van rides, pool games, movie nights, and group homework sessions.

One of the main highlights of the camp was getting to know Maddy Schmidt and listening to her unique perspective of the world. Maddy Schmidt is a Team Canada athlete and an Olympian, aiming for Paris 2024. She taught me invaluable skills both on and off the water. At dinner, Maddy introduced the concept of sharing our "roses" (the most positive aspect of our day) and "thorns" (the most difficult part of our day). This practice encouraged open and reflective thinking, which I have incorporated into my daily routine. Maddy, also emphasized the importance of being playful and resilient, even in the face of challenges during practice. During my last few days, Mike allowed me to sit in on two of Maddy’s practices and it helped me discover so many incredible ways to think about how I can improve my performance and what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. 

Over the course of two weeks, I learned numerous life lessons. As a fourteen-year-old attending the camp, I gained practical skills such as meal planning, effective grocery shopping, time management, self-respect, and taking responsibility for my actions. I realized that my diet, sleep patterns, and time management directly impacted my overall well-being and my performance on the water. While the coaches were always available if I needed help, experiencing a sense of independence and accountability for myself was incredibly empowering. I am immensely grateful for everything I learned during this experience, as these lessons will stay with me for the rest of my life.