Perhaps it’s the long hours out on the waters that have turned Adam Van Koeverden into a poet, fighting the forces of nature. And winning.
These days, the Olympic champion is paddling the waters of Florida. In normal years, the waters of Sixteen Mile Creek in Van Koeverden’s home town of Oakville, Ont. are a little frosty.
Van Koeverden is training for his third Olympics and is already trailing a stream of gold and silver medals from previous attempts, as well as bragging rights as the flag bearer for opening and closing ceremonies at two Games.
With every stroke of his paddle, he is preparing himself for the battle at the Eton Dorney course near Windsor Castle in England this summer. But every day he does battle with the water, or so he suggests.
On , there is a photograph of calm still waters in Florida, with a speck on the horizon that is Van Koeverden training industriously. “The water was nice and flat that day,” he says. “It hardly fought back.”
Obviously, Van Koeverden has developed a relationship with water.
“Training has been awesome this week,” he said in early March. “The salty beast has taken a severe beating from my dual-bladed battle axe. I thrash upon its blue hide repeatedly, morning and night, until I am all but completely exhausted.”
After the morning “battering,” Van Koeverden sets off for food, for the delights of the gym, or for a swim or a jog.
“In the afternoon, it welcomes more blunt force trauma from my implement,” Van Koeverden discloses.
But then, he says, it’s difficult to see who is winning. His daily travails have become a contest.
“Beating a river into daily submission is rewarding,” he says. “But it is not without its repercussions. I admit, I am tired. My back and shoulders are sore, my hands ache, and nine hours of sleep hardly feels adequate.
“But as I rinse the encrusted salt from my skin after every battle I feel that my muscles are stronger than they were the day before, my blisters have calloused and the skin on my hands is harder. As the onslaught continues I feel that I can administer it a more thorough daily trouncing.”
Van Koeverden won a berth for Canada at the world championships last summer in Szeged, Hungary, by demolishing the competition in the 1,000 metre event, a race in which he’d finished second three times. Although it was his favourite event, he’d never won it before at a world championship. He won by three seconds, dazzling the competition with his go-to-the-front style.
He had finished eighth in the 1,000 metres at the Beijing Games and met with disappointment. And now the event in which he won his first Olympic gold medal – the 500-metre sprint - is no longer part of the Olympic program, Van Koeverden is focused on the longer horizon now.
He cannot rest on his laurels. There are so many talented kayakers at the top, Van Koeverden has a tough task ahead of him, still. “It takes your best race every time,” he says.
So day by day, he works at the Olympic journey and fights not with a competitor but with a long-time foe, one that embraces him and damns him at the same time. And he’s tremendously philosophical about it.
“I don’t know how much the river can take,” he said. “It has shown few if any signs of weakness. Perhaps its capacity for abuse is boundless. But of one thing I am certain: It isn’t getting any tougher. And I am.”