Stay Safe Out There
Thoughts from Brendan Curson, Head Coach and Program Director, Saskatoon Whitewater Kayak Club
As a coach we do everything we can to prepare our athletes and paddlers to reach their goals. We encourage our athletes to strive for their best and sometimes even give a gentle nudge when required to push them through that comfort zone in order to expand their tool bag of skills. As coaches we also drill into our athletes the importance of safety and ensure they are prepared for any situation they encounter. Our goal as coaches is to make our athletes shine in the spotlight and quietly sit on the side of the river watching them as they reach for greatness. Just like a family, our athletes eventually leave the protection of the nest and reach out into new and more exciting directions. At this point all we can do is sit back, encourage, and allow them to find their own way.
This weekend, our small community lost one of our shining stars. Peter Thompson was one of those one-in-a-million individuals who had the ability to make your world seem just a little brighter. Not only was Peter a tremendous paddler, skier, and outdoor enthusiast, he was also one of the most enthusiastic and caring people you could meet. At the young age of 19 Peter had compiled an incredible list of accomplishments and was only just beginning to find his path in this world.
When I first found out about Peter’s passing on Friday, I was hit with shock and sadness. Now that I have had an opportunity to digest the sad news I am now frustrated and angered by the loss of someone who had not yet reached their full potential in life. As a coach, I can’t help but ask all the usual questions:
- What was the situation?
- Were the boys being safe?
- Were they putting themselves or the camera first?
- Could this have been avoided?
The unfortunate part is that I already know the answer to these questions because coaches like myself and others had spent endless amounts of time helping prepare Peter and paddlers just like him to have the skills to be able to succeed in the paddling realm.
I also can’t help wondering if we as coaches played a part in Peter’s death. We understand that if we don’t teach our athletes the proper skills to succeed that they will seek them elsewhere and not necessarily from the best sources. Probably the most influential and positive source of skill development for Peter was World Class Kayaking School. This program is just that, world class. They have provided opportunities to youth to succeed in every part of their lives for many years and are leaders in developing well rounded and tremendously successful paddlers. But just as I encourage my athletes to reach for their goals, World Class encourage their paddlers to push their limits in order to build their tool bag of skills. In providing Peter with the opportunity to hone his skills on rivers and creeks and encouraging him to always search for something more, did we in some way contribute to him leaving us too early?
The other part of this that I can’t help question is how technology has played into the multiple paddling deaths our small community has endured this past year. Today every athlete in every sport has a video camera and a computer. As coaches, we spend a lot of time watching unbelievable video of our athletes performing tremendous feats of athleticism. Not only do these videos provide amazing entertainment but they show what is possible in the world of sport. At what point though does it all go too far? I have watched some pretty scary footage over the past year of paddlers pushing their limits to what I would consider the extreme in order to capture the best video available. Not only are these videos viewed by thousands online, but they are praised and even awarded for progressing the sport. I can’t help but wonder what the balance of positive and negative influence this technology has on the youth who are also deciding what’s possible.
When it comes down to it, there are always more questions than answers and we do our best to move forward in a positive direction. I will personally miss my friend Peter and choose to be comforted by what he was able to contribute to this world in the short time he was with us. For all the paddlers out there, young and old, I encourage you to BE SAFE out there. Always put yourself first and always listen to the little voice in your head. Remember that you, and only you, know your limits and know when you are capable of pushing those limits or staying within them.
(Peter Thompson instructing at the SWKC Whitewater Camp)