Sixty women and girls took to the Oxford Canal recently, with Banbury and District Canoe Club’s annual This Girl Can … Canoe Day.
Club Coach, Alice Murphy said “We wanted to make the day bigger and better than before, and to inspire women and girls to get outdoors and be adventurous – preferably with some canoeing involved!” Sponsored by Hayfield Homes – builders of Hayfield Views, the collection of 2-5 bedroom new homes in neighbouring Great Bourton, the Cropredy-based club was able to do just that, by offering far more than the just canoeing or kayaking.
With gazebos set up around the site, visitors had the opportunity to talk to adventurous women; “Meet the Elite”; warm-up with a physio; and take part in games and challenges.
Although one BDCC member on the GB squad – Amy Turner – was away on duty at the sprint World Cups in Europe, another – double Olympian Angela Hannah – was on hand to inspire the next generation, whilst she takes a few months off racing to have a baby. She was joined by the holders of the women’s record in the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster race – Kat Wilson and Alex Lane. Lane is also the current U23 European and World Marathon bronze medallist and, with all three having come into the sport at different ages and through different routes, they had plenty of advice to offer.
Another BDCC member – Sophie Rooney – brought her tent with her. Not to sleep in, but to show how she would be living for the next month, as she was setting off to lead a group running across Iceland. She also shared stories of her time in 2016 when she became the first woman to run the length of Scandinavia solo. From that success, she was invited to support multiple Guinness World Record breaker Mimi Anderson in her run across USA last year. Mimi repaid the compliment and came to Cropredy to talk about the joys and challenges of endurance running at any age, and had a paddle with Sophie. Despite having run through the hottest deserts, highest mountains and the arctic – Mimi apparently found getting in a boat far more nerve-wracking – a lesson for all about individual challenges.
To help everyone prepare for the new sport, Danielle Lester from Banbury’s Reboot Injury Clinic was on hand to lead the warm-ups. She also found herself sorting a few little niggles that the paddlers discovered, before she too ended up having a go in a boat.
After all that, there was tea and cake in the clubhouse, which raised about £60 in donations for Birmingham’s Acorn Children’s Hospice – the charity Sophie and her team are supporting with their Icelandic run. As well as sponsorship from Hayfield, the club was able to secure prizes and gifts for everyone attending, including vouchers from sport and activewear company Boudavida – who put 5% of their sales back into projects that support women’s and girls’ sports. There were also free samples of Go Faster Foods Go Bites, (available in Banbury’s Holland and Barrett), to keep everyone going throughout the day. The wider paddling community also supported the event, with prizes from Peak UK, Icon and Marsport.
The event was part of British Canoeing’s Go Canoeing week, and all the participants paddled their target mile. Jenny Spencer, Go Canoeing’s Development Manager came to help and said “It was fantastic to see so many women and girls turn up to the day and the club did a great job of creating a welcoming and friendly environment with so much on offer for people to try. Within British Canoeing we are running an initiative to encourage more women to try paddlesports, so it was great to see the club supporting this. There are many perceived barriers, but if people get out on the water and see how enjoyable it is, these are often overcome. We hope that a number of people come back and get more involved in the club.”
This has certainly proved to be the case, as not only was there a 50% increase in numbers on the day compared to previous years, the take-up since then has been equally good, and the club has already had to put on three extra beginner courses to accommodate all the interest, as over 20 people have already come back for more.
BDCC still manages to be one of the most successful and inclusive clubs in the country, welcoming all ages and levels of ability. Domestically, the club came 4th in the inter-club divisional championships, and 5th in the national marathon championships – with individuals taking national medals across the age groups from under 12s to over the 64 categories. There were similar successes at the national sprint regattas throughout the year, showing the depth of talent and commitment from every member.
A number of paddlers have also been flying the flag for Banbury internationally, led by London and Rio Olympian Angela Hannah, who won bronze at the World Championships in K2 200 with Hannah Brown of Wiltshire Youth CC, and Amy Turner who was 9th in the Womens’ 500 K4. Self-funded Iain Weir made the B final of the C2 1000 with Jonny Jones from Fladbury.
The juniors also showed great form. Joe Petersen won medals at the early marathon World Cup, and then raced at the Junior European and World Marathon championships, coming 4th in both with Oscar McKittrick from Elmbridge, and at the Junior World Sprint Championships, making the B final with Finn Cadell of Linlithgow KC. William McCracken and Esme Davidson were part of an U16 squad racing at Neerpelt Sprint Regatta, coming back with a clutch of medals.
Wildwater paddler Rob Jefferies continues to be a regular member of the GB team, coming 7th in the 2017 World championships team event, and 11th in this years. With his support, there is a growing number of juniors taking up the discipline, and the team of Max Harper, George Urquhart and Luke Johnson won the 2017 Club Wavehopper Team Championships – winning a new boat in the process.
International selection has continued into this year. Whilst Angela is taking some time out to have a baby, Amy has raced at World Cups 1 and 2, and been selected for the World Sprint Championships in the K4; Joe Petersen was part of the senior development team at the German National Marathon Championships, winning silver in the K2 with new partner Matt Thompson of Chelmsford CC, and Arthur Urquhart (Banbury-based, but racing for Royal CC whilst at university) has been selected for the senior GB team for the International K4 series in Spain this July.
The club took a junior team again to the Flanders Cup regatta in Ghent, where they all acquitted themselves well, again coming back with handfuls of medals, as well as a good introduction to international racing and learning the need to be independent at regattas, and not relying on parents.
Nine members of the club took part in the 2017 125 mile Devizes to Westminster race, and all completed, with Irene Hills and Kirsten Suenson Taylor winning the veteran women trophy. Sadly, bad weather curtailed the 2018 race, but we expect to see many more out again next year for this Everest of marathon canoeing.
Most importantly, however, the club continues to be family-based, and the committee works hard to make sure there is something for everyone, whatever their age or level. With grants and additional club funding, new boats and paddles have been bought for beginners and juniors, and there are training sessions or informal groups out on the water every day.