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Team Manitoba athlete James Lavallée doesn’t like to think about where his life would be without kayaking.

Growing up with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia, Lavallée struggled with school and his confidence.

It wasn’t until he started kayaking at the age of 11 that Lavallée was able to move forward in life.

"When I was a kid, a part of the reason why I started (kayaking) was a reason to get away from school. I was incredibly frustrated when I was in elementary school. Dyslexia at that time wasn’t known to be a real thing and I was called stupid a lot. It was very frustrating and I was very angry. My life turned (180) degrees when I started paddling," said Lavallée.

The Winnipegger tried several sports growing up, but kayaking was the first one that clicked for him. He says it was the first time in his life where he felt his hard work was paying off.

"(It was) the first sport and first activity that I could put all my work in and see the same result back. I worked so hard in school and other things and I got nowhere," said the 19-year old.

Lavallée took the negative energy and used it as motivation on the water. He said after training, he would go to school the next day feeling "refreshed and with an open mind." That’s when his grades started to improve.

"Without kayaking, I feel I’d be in a real different place," said Lavallée.

The kid who barely got by in elementary school is now a student at the University of Manitoba. Lavallée, who is pursuing a science degree, even got an A+ in one of his courses this year.

"That was huge for me," he said.

Lavallée isn’t shy to talk about the challenges he has overcome because he hopes his story can help to inspire others. He’s also proud of his Métis background and honoured to be racing on the Red River this week, as it’s the water his ancestors used. He said it’s important for Métis people to remember where they came from and be proud of their heritage.

"It’s very encouraging to know these are the waters that my ancestors were working hard on. I’m Métis and if this river didn’t exist and if I wasn’t Métis, I wouldn’t be who I am today," he said.

It’s been a busy week at the Manitoba Canoe & Kayak Centre for Lavallée. After the first two days of Canada Games competition, he has competed in four events. Lavallée won a bronze medal on Monday in the K1-500 metre race. On Tuesday, Lavallée reached the final of both the K1-1,000 metre and K4-1,000-metre races, finishing fifth in both races.

As someone who prefers sprint races, the best may be yet to come for the Winnipeg native. The 200-metre events take place today and Thursday.

His short-term goals are to pick up more medals, but in the long term, Lavallée wants to represent his country.

"I want to be there at the Olympics. Whether its 2020 or 2024, I’m going to find a way to make it work. It’s going to be a long journey and a hard journey, but I think I can make it happen," he said.

Lavallée is working hard to make that goal a reality. He spends 20 hours a week training and keeps busy with stretching, physhiotherapy and meal preparation. He said kayaking is a full-time job and it can be tough to balance it all, but he wouldn’t change a thing. He’s just thankful he found a passion that changed his life for the better.

"It’s important to find what you love and excel at it. Everyone has a gift and they should use it," said Lavallée.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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