It took determination to qualify for nationals. It took even more determination to make it there to compete.
Cameron Antifave, a teen paddler from Lantzville, defied doctor’s orders and raced at the Sprint Canoe Kayak Canadian Championships in Dartmouth, N.S. earlier this month.
Training was going well for the provincial champion and standout with the Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club until three days before his departure, when he had a freak accident while doing chores and suffered deep second-degree burns all over his lower left leg. He didn’t want to go into further detail about the accident.
“That experience was just so bad, so painful … I don’t really want to look back at it,” he said.
At the hospital, as he received treatment, he asked if he was going to be able to compete.
“There’s no way you can go to nationals,” the doctor replied. “You’re out for at least a month.”
Antifave accepted the doctor’s judgment – at first. What made it harder was that paddling is a team sport, and Antifave was slated to race in pairs and fours boats at nationals.
“If I didn’t go to this competition, there’d be three other guys that wouldn’t be able to compete and we’ve all been training like two years for this race,” he said.
Still, he picked up the phone and broke the news that he couldn’t compete to his longtime paddling partner Michael Lanyon, who couldn’t hide his disappointment.
“I just felt so bad … I knew even if it was going to be painful, I had to do it for the team,” Antifave said. “It’s two years for him, as well. We get up every morning at five. Two practices a day. It’s a lot of work in the last two years, and then three days before you go, you can’t race? So I could not do that to him.”
So Antifave changed his mind, texted his friend back, and three days later, still unable to walk without crutches, got onto the plane and set off for nationals.
Competing was challenging. Mentally, he went into nationals knowing he’d missed some training and wishing he hadn’t missed those days. Physically, he had to paddle through pain and the sport isn’t all about upper-body strength.
“You put both your feet on the foot board and then you push, and that push really helps drive your core and bring the stroke forward. So each stroke, you’re driving your leg forward,” Antifave said.
He got better as the competition wore on, with his best results in the K-2 1,000 metres. Antifave and Lanyon weren’t fast enough at the start of the heat, and Lanyon shouted for Antifave to pick it up, and they managed to speed up enough to qualify for the final. There, they took sixth, but were just a second and a half away from a podium placing.
“Those races, anything could’ve happened,” Antifave said. “Next year we could go and win or next year we could go and come last. Everything’s so close.”
No matter what, nationals were going to be an experience, and they ended up being a different kind of experience than Antifave might have hoped for or expected. Now, he thinks about Paralympic paddlers and how they compete through their disabilities. He thinks about his next season, and scholarship opportunities and championships to come. He thinks about where paddling has taken him and where it will take him next.
“It just gives me a whole broader perspective on the sport,” he said.