Courtesy Sharon Tiohswathe Rice
The Onake Paddling Club (OPC) is celebrating its 50th anniversary by preparing a photo and video series on the organization’s historical development and accomplishments since the first paddler took to the water in 1972.
“Not only will we celebrate the numerous champions and medal winners throughout the decades, but equally important is to honour the longevity, consistency and commitment to providing canoeing opportunities to the community,” said Sharon Tiohswathe Rice, senior manager at the OPC, who began training with the club on the ladies war canoe and kayaks a year after the club opened.
In April, the Onake 50th Anniversary Committee, which is composed of former paddlers, began posting the photo series called Throughout the Years on their social media accounts, with captions detailing the wins, events, and achievements of past athletes.
Submissions from the club’s participants make up the project, with the organization posting a call-out on their Facebook page for their members’ “memorabilia and photographs from the past 50 years” to share in the photo series.
Similarly, the committee is working on a series of themed videos “that will be used for historical purposes and illustrate how the club has developed throughout the years,” said Rice. They contain interviews with former members on their experience as Onake-trained paddlers, such as Lisa White, who competed during her teens in the 90s.
“Those early years of my life spent at the club mean so much to me. The power of the water, the fun spent with friends, the support and praise from excellent coaches, it can really impact a youth’s life,” said White. “There is such a pride with the sport in this community – that club touched so many lives.”
For White, the legacy lives on in her family, with her 14-year-old son having joined the team three years ago, as well as her daughter, who she shared will soon become a fellow paddler.
“It’s hard work, but the pay off with the fun and magic it brings you inside… is the part you remember for the rest of your life,” said White.
The club has several distinguished athletes, including Olympic winner Alwyn Morris, Canada Games winners Corey Hamelin, Michael Rice, and the club’s manager, Sharon Rice.
“The Onake Paddling Club is very important to me. It is where I learned very important life lessons such as commitment, goal setting, teamwork – essentially good ‘work ethic,’” shared Rice. “The club has developed due to the hard work of the paddlers, supporters and volunteers.”
Kaharónkwas Maris Jacobs, 26-year-old OPC coach, got her start at eight-years-old on the racing team and has stayed on to pass her knowledge to the next generation.
“It made up all of my childhood. That’s where I spent all my life,” said Jacobs. “And so what really made me want to stick around is that we had younger kids coming up after us who needed guidance too.”
At one point in her teenage years, her OPC racing team had dwindled down to just Jacobs and one other competitor, and they participated in national competitions and training camps in the US. When Jacobs realized she was one of the oldest coaches at 18, she decided to stick around to help keep the pro-racing program going.
“I was really one of the older coaches that were there, the main coaching staff. So I stuck around because I really still enjoyed it and wanted to see the kids succeed,” said Jacobs.
The competitive program has structured practices in the morning and the afternoon, occurring in the summer months after the school year ends, as well as a secondary option – which ran for the first time last year – where paddlers can train in four-hour practices.
On average, competitive team paddlers train five days a week, two to four hours a day depending on age and class, with the youngest paddlers starting at seven years old.
“Seeing paddlers develop into good paddlers, racers and coaches is exciting to see because they become the future leaders in the sport as well as in their future careers,” said Rice.
In the future, the sport’s club will add an indoor facility to their space in order to offer year-round activities by providing off-season training space to their athletes at their location, instead of renting off-site. The facility will also serve to accommodate the club’s various types of boats, canoes, and kayaks.
This summer, the OPC will host various events, including bringing back the Survival Race, which highlights the community’s outdoor fitness interests, as well as the Water Challenge featuring a team boat competition.
Family Nights will also return, where Kanien’kehá:ka can participate in mini-workshops to learn about the various techniques and equipment at the club. On June 18, the club will host a Regional Regatta featuring some canoe clubs which were significant to Onake’s competitive flat-water history.
On-site, the club’s classic Onake rock received a new paint job after 38 years by the original painters, Stephen Stacey and Michael Rossetti, who initially painted the rock to welcome Alwyn Morris home after his gold and bronze medals at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
“The significance of celebrating the 50th anniversary is that the club is still very active, and the programming is constantly evolving to meet the interests of the community,” said Rice.