For 18-year-old Sacha Skirzyk, lake life is the best life.
It’s been five years since a friend first handed Skirzyk a kayak and paddle, offering to teach him about the sport.
While it was just a hobby for his buddy, Skirzyk dove all in. So much so, his mom enrolled him in a summer camp the week they got back to the city.
Fast-forward five years and Skirzyk is a competitive kayaker. Just this week, the teen blew away other competitors at the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask.
Skirzyk hauled in 12 medals over four days, eight of them gold.
"My experience at the Games was amazing. I have a lot of friends in the canoe/kayak community out west, so it was fun to hang out with them. Also great to compete with people from Manitoba and go up against other provinces," Skirzyk said.
"So much fun to spend that much time with so many of my friends, plus meet new people from other sports in Manitoba. Usually each sport is individualized and you only hang out with those people. So it’s really fun to meet people in other sports, people that are doing really well."
At the Games' midway point of Day 7, Manitoba athletes had already racked up 87 medals, 14 per cent of which were won by Skirzyk.
Hard work, determination and ongoing support from the staff at the Manitoba Canoe & Kayak Centre are all factors Skirzyk credits in his golden performance.
The centre's day camp is really where it all started for him, Skirzyk said. He learned the ropes of dragon boating, canoeing, kayaking, with the added bonus of paddling to places like The Forks and Bridge Drive-In.
"I would’ve never known about competitive kayaking otherwise. They’re always looking for more people to join… people can try it out for free whenever they’d like really, it’s pretty fun."
Outside of racing, Skirzyk said the kayaking and canoeing community is a strong one. Travelling to see beautiful places across the country, while meeting athletes he can learn from, has been one of his favourite parts about the sport. Just before the Games, Skirzyk competed at races in both Calgary and Banff.
"We can be wanting to kill each other during the race. But as soon as the race is over you’re all congratulating each other on how they did. It could be a good race, or if it was a little bad you’d go ‘you had a good race, I didn’t have the greatest time.’ It’s super fun. It’s not too serious after, but during the race you’re going all in," he said.
If Skirzyk continues to post showings like he did at the Games, it’s in the realm of possibility he could be competing for Team Canada in the near future. Until then, Skirzyk says he’ll continue to train his hardest, despite not having an indoor paddling facility for the winter months, like some other provinces do. During the off-season, Skirzyk focuses on strength training and conditioning at the gym.
But while physical strength is important, mental toughness is another critical factor for kayakers like Skirzyk, especially when it gets into longer races.
Skirzyk’s favourite event, the 1000-metre singles race, is one event where racers need to lock in mentally.
In the 1000m finals, Skirzyk rowed away with gold — finishing nearly ten seconds ahead of the second-place competitor.
"I tend to enjoy longer distance races. It’s a lot more of a mental game. You’re trying to plan out what you’re going to do, you’re going to plan out when you’re doing a push, when to race against them a little harder and see what they do and adjust. It’s a lot more fun to have that type of a mental strategy," he said.
Having just graduated high school, Skirzyk is looking forward to taking a year off from studies, to dial in on his kayaking training more than ever before.
Manitoba is currently in second place in WCSG medal standings, only behind Alberta’s 188. The competition wraps up Saturday.