Zane Clarke set some lofty goals when the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island wrapped up and he returned home with his Manitoba teammates.

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This article was published 12/8/2017 (1508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Zane Clarke set some lofty goals when the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island wrapped up and he returned home with his Manitoba teammates.

"I told myself, ‘You’re going to win a gold medal at the Canada Games some day and you’re going to be a flag-bearer,’" he recalled earlier this week.

Four years later, Clarke captured a gold medal in the K-4 (four-person kayak) 1,000-metre race in Sherbrooke, Que. — the very same race he and three teammates finished dead last in, when he was 13 years old in P.E.I. — to fulfil his first objective. This weekend, the now-21-year-old, who hails from Selkirk and is competing in his third-straight Canada Summer Games, will stroke the second wish off his bucket list.

Clarke has already secured a gold medal in the male K-1 1,000-metre race and a hat trick of silvers (K-1 500m, K-4 1,000m and K-4 200m) at the Manitoba Canoe & Kayak Centre, and he’ll proudly carry his provincial flag and lead his team into Investors Group Field for the closing ceremony Sunday afternoon, as one of the most decorated athletes at the 2017 Games in Winnipeg.

But he won’t be donning a white track suit with yellow and brown trim. No bison logo will adorn his uniform.

Clarke will wear what he’s been decked out in all week — the same colour he flashed in Sherbrooke — bright Nova Scotia blue. He’s a Halifax guy now, after moving east five years ago to propel his athletic career in the water.

"All of my family and friends know that I made the full commitment to Nova Scotia when I moved there when I was 16," said Clarke. "I have no jaded feelings toward Manitoba at all. But I made the jump and it’s only fair and respectful to Nova Scotia to represent them.

"It’s not weird at all (wearing a Nova Scotia hat and T-shirt). It’s home for me now."

Clarke is a top performer on the Bluenose team this week, thrilling the crowds who still consider him one of their own. He’s also one of Canada’s best young paddlers. He’s raced nationally with tremendous success and has also represented the country’s junior and under-23 teams at competitions in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico, the U.S. and, most recently, Romania for the world U23 championships in late July.

But he was introduced to the sport just north of the city in the most fortuitous fashion.

"I was 10 years old and my mom wanted to put me in a program for a week so she could go to summer school to get her university done. I was supposed to go to a nature camp at Oak Hammock Marsh but it got cancelled. So, my mom had this flyer from the Selkirk Canoe & Kayak Club. I didn’t want to go. I thought it’d be dumb," he said, laughing.

"I ended up going and it was the most fun I had ever had. From there, I just took steps every year to get better. It wasn’t until I was about 13 when my coach told me I could be really good at this. So, I started training really hard. I won at westerns, I went to nationals. I went to my first Canada Games in P.E.I."

Three years later, he won a pair of gold medals at the Canadian U16 championships and made the national team for the first time.

His Selkirk coach at the time, Jan Kruk, had a simple philosophy, Clarke remembers.

"He’d say, ‘There’s no magic. It’s all hard work.’ I remember working so hard on the water and off the water that I’d throw up, I’d get bloody noses, my body would be burning. I remember being so tired I couldn’t even walk straight," he said. "I pushed myself so hard."

Kruk moved to the Maskwa Aquatic Club in Halifax and Clarke followed him there in 2012. He maintained moving to Nova Scotia, where paddling has deep roots and is a hotbed of talent, was really a no-brainer.

"It was easy. I was chasing my dream. I loved every minute of it and have never had any regrets," said the muscular 5-11, 180-pound athlete, who returned to Selkirk for about four months each year to finish high school. "My family was very supportive. Their attitude was, ‘Do it, you love it.’"

Clarke said he was elated to learn four years ago that Winnipeg would play host to his final Canada Summer Games. As he sets his sights on qualifying to represent his country at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, he never forgets where his remarkable journey commenced.

"It’s like home," he said, gazing toward the Red River and then scanning the bustling grounds of the club on Churchill Drive. "I grew up on the Red. This water is so familiar to me. I didn’t train here (at the centre) specifically, but I would race here all the time.

"Every time I go out there this week I catch myself smiling. It’s pretty special. This is where it started. I might be climbing the mountain but it’s cool to just come back and get a flashback of how it started, the beginning."

"It’s extremely surreal. When I first started paddling I didn’t think that any of this would happen. I didn’t think I’d become one of the best in the country. I was just having fun doing something I loved, being outside, being on the water. But the dream came alive in Manitoba."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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