It's one of the oldest sports in the world and Cape Coral is the perfect spot for it. For flat water, sprint canoe kayaking, that is.
It's a mouthful for one slim-trim speed sport and if Cape Coral resident Melinda Mack has anything to say about it, the Cape will become the international destination for Olympic athletes training for this fast and competitive water sport.
Mack, the executive director of the South Florida Canoe Kayak Club, says an international center to accommodate the year-round training needed by these athletes is an idea whose time has come. With years of experience at Lanier Canoe Kayak Club in Georgia, Mack was happy when USA Canoe Kayak asked her to start a club in Cape Coral last year. USA Canoe Kayak is the governing body that oversees this Olympic discipline and Macks' club now boasts of athletes from all over the world including Denmark, Germany and Colombia.
According to Mack, the sport is very big in Europe and Canada, and she is inundated with requests to train here because the conditions are near perfect. Sprint canoe kayaking uses a 14-foot carbon fiber craft outfitted to hold one, two or four participants and involves either a semi-erect one-sided lunge stroke or a seated two-sided alternating paddling motion. The sport gives participants a whole body workout and beginners must have basic fitness and swimming ability.
"The need is out there for a year round international training center - the warmer and deeper the water, the faster the training speed and Cape Coral is just perfect for that!" said Mack. She is making her voice heard and her vision a reality.
"I love the idea," says Jeff Mielke, executive director of Lee County Sports Authority, an agency dedicated to developing local sports tourism.
According to Mielke, a year round training center for water sport would diversify the local tourism economy now primarily focused on baseball and soccer. Mielke is encouraging Lee County property owners to reach out to him if they have a body of water that meets event specification of 150 by 2000 meters.
When asked what stage the plan is in, Mielke replied "It is in the concept stages but we won't stop working on the training center - it can create a year round economic benefit, and we are the right destination for it."
Mack has experience in flat water sprint canoe kayaking as a parent, coach and program director. This year Mack also is the proud parent of an athlete who qualified in fifth place for the Olympics. Her son, Tanner Mack, is headed for the 2016 Olympics, a goal he delayed this year for lack of funding for the trip.
Of Mack's eight children, some of whom also participate, Tanner has traveled the most, essentially circling the globe competing in this vigorous sport. The club now has three athletes who have made it to world championships and it is Mack's goal to fully fund the trip expenses for any student of hers who makes the national team.
Pepe Naranjo, club coach and a National Team competitor is scheduled to race in Rome this September. He has been canoeing for 29 years and started when he was only 13.
"This is one of the oldest sports in the world, it dates back to ancient canoe transportation, it gives children a healthy discipline and puts them on the right path," Naranjo said.
The sport is not just for athletes, though. It also is perfect for the corporation looking to build team solidarity. Using the "Dragon boat" which holds 22 people, corporate executives can roll up their sleeves with front line employees and give it a go, balancing, and pulling together to keep this "tippy" boat in line while building trust and communication.
The most exciting part of the sport, according to Mack, is its para canoe division. Para canoeing is the adaptive version of the sport for disabled athletes and it is now recognized as an Olympic discipline.
"We are actively seeking participants," said Mack for this exciting competition.
"When we can do something for the disabled community, now that's wonderful," he said.
When asked what drives her passion for this sport, Mack responded, "I did it for my children, and it has been life changing. It is a low-impact, healthy, year-round sport that can be done by anyone from ages 8 to 80."
The club meets at the Serienia Vista Kayak Launch in Cape Coral at Old Burnt Store Road and Ceitus Parkway. Anyone interested can contact the club at www.sfckc.org or 239-540-4693.