Joseph Starr - Long time Kayaker, High Performance Athlete and Coach
At what age, and what club, did you become involved with Canoe Kayak?
I think I was 10 when I joined Senobe. It was like 2 weeks into the summer, and my parents were sick of having me around. It was a good move!
Who were your mentors while you were developing in the sport?
I had a lot of great young coaches growing up who got me excited about the sport. A few who spring to mind from my early years were my war canoe coaches - Pierre Pellerin, and Matt Ripley. They both got me really stoked on paddling as a young peewee.
Once I made the move to Banook, Troy Comeau was an important figure for me, first in the athlete coach sense, and then later on as mentor as I developed as a coach myself.
What was the highlight of your career? The low point of your career?
Being a part of the 2008 National Championship with Banook - as both an athlete and coach is a pretty big highlight...even though we only got the burgee a month later!
As for low point: near the end of my time as a competitive junior paddler, I was initially named to a team, which had been a pretty big goal of mine that season. Without going into too much detail, I'll say that selection criteria can be interpreted in different ways, and in the end my spot on the team was given to someone else. It was pretty tough to take as a 17 year old kid. I don't think I set foot in the club for two weeks - which was a long time since I basically spent all my time there!
What has Canoe Kayak taught you that translates to your professional career?
The jump from paddler to coach, and the connection from that to my current profession of teacher is easy to see. It definitely instilled a hard working attitude and a lifelong love of learning and adventure, which I try to bring to my job today.
What did you like most about the sport?
I enjoyed the hard work. I think I enjoyed the training more than I ever really liked the racing. I'm into running marathons these days. I don't think I would be running marathons if I didn't grow up learning how to train, and work hard.
What advice would you have for someone new to the sport that is interested in joining a club?
If you are just starting out, you should be somewhere where your friends are and you're going to be happy. If you decide that you're going to go all in, you can always make a change later on.
Did you have any interesting routines that you employed during warm-ups or race preparation that might surprise or are unique to you?
Warm up; like most paddlers I just did a lot of arm circles, while simultaneously chatting and avoiding getting on the water. Standard warm-up stuff!
What was your favourite race and why?
Open K4 200 always held a special place in my heart, as well as any 500m war canoe races. As a coach, I absolutely loved coxing midget, and juvenile war canoes...although I was always a bundle of nerves for those!
What was your highlight racing (in terms of top-level regattas attended)?
I represented Nova Scotia at a Canada Cup regatta. There were a few other countries there, and some of our provincial team crews beat out team Canada boats, so that was a nice feeling!
Are there any elements of paddling technique or training that you struggled with that you would have some advice for young athletes coming up to learn from your challenges?
I was a little before my time in the sport of canoe kayak, in that I was a 200m specialist before the 200 was a marquee event! It was certainly frustrating as an athlete, as I just couldn't seem to put together a good 1000, which was all that really mattered at the time. Rather than accepting that I had some natural 200m ability, and that I was a valuable crew boat paddler, I continued to grow more and more frustrated with my K1 1000m struggles, which eventually led to me leaving the competitive side of the sport, probably sooner than I should have!
My advice to young athletes would be to find your niche, and use it to your advantage. Winning K1 (or C1) 1000 isn't the sole indicator of success as a paddler.
What was the turning point of your career or thing that drove you as a competitive athlete?
When I was a peewee, I made the midget war canoe for qualifying - 7th on the left. We won and set a lake record, and got to go to nationals, where we grabbed a bronze medal. When you're 12, that kind of stuff is just so huge. Needless to say I was hooked after that!
Family is a big part of our sport, as many athletes come from households with multi-generational participation in the sport. Was this applicable to you, and how did your family impact your paddling experience?
This wasn't really a factor for me I as a first generation paddler in my family.
In your own opinion, how have you impacted the sport?
Well, I don't imagine anything I did as an athlete resonates too strongly. As a coach though I like to think I made an impact. Certainly it is my hope that the many athletes I coached enjoyed their time working with me, and became better people because of me.
If you could change one thing about Canoe/Kayak what would you do?
Canoe Kayak, especially in NS seems to have a problem retaining athletes past their competitive junior years - I was a casualty of this as well - and it would be nice to see a change in this.
Maybe it's because canoe kayak is so competitive here, and so much is expected of our young athletes, but it seems that once an athlete reaches their ceiling, if they haven't found success, the only option is to quit. Having taken up other sports after my time in paddling, I've seen that elsewhere, athletes continue on training and competing into their late teens, twenties, and thirties, even when they are no longer 'elite'. Not sure what the solution is for this, but it would be nice to see this change.