Maple Ridge paddler qualifies for Team Canada

Matt Koehler will be competing at the World Junior Championships in Belarus later this summer.

Matthew Koehler won the 1000m race at the national team trials in Montreal last weekend

On Canada Day, Maple Ridge’s Matthew Koehler will be in the nation’s capital, kayak racing in the Rideau Canoe Club’s annual Canada Day International Regatta.

And he’s getting ready for bigger things to come.

Koehler, 17, won the junior men’s individual kayak 1,000m race at the national team trials in Montreal last weekend, and has been selected for Team Canada for the Junior World Championships in Minsk, Belarus later this month.

“It was amazing. It was such a great race,” said Koehler from Montreal. “It was really tight at the finish line.”

His closest rival was catching up, closing a big, two-boat lead Koehler had gained, and the Ridge paddler won the race by 0.2 seconds – just the nose of his boat.

“It’s by far the biggest accomplishment I’ve had,” he said of the win at national team trials. “It’s been my goal since I started in this sport.

“It’s a huge stepping stone.”

He was the Canoe Kayak B.C. athlete of the year for 2015, and his accomplishments include numerous medals at the Western Canada Summer Games – four each of gold and silver, and two bronze.

At the 2015 nationals, he finished first in the  U17 K-1 6,000m, and second in each of the 1,000m and K-2 1,000m.

The win was a reward for his dedication. Koehler has been training hard, with thousands of orbits around Whonnock Lake, and hours of dryland training.

Kayakers need strong shoulders and core, but Koehler said even his legs are engaged.

“I find it’s everything,” he said. “And technique is huge in this sport, and it effects every distance.”

Long-term, he has his sights set on representing Canada at the 2024 Olympic Games.

But there’s lots to do before that for the 2016 graduate of Samuel Robertson Technical. He will be studying engineering at SFU next year, and won a scholarship from Canoe/Kayak B.C.

The top two finishers from that race last weekend were selected to represent Canada and compete as a team in the K2 event in Minsk.

Koehler said he has never before paddled with Scott Braddon – an Ottawa athlete who has always been close competition for him – but now they’ve been thrown together as a team.

“It’s funny how this world works. You’re rivals and then you have to be best friends.”

They will be racing up at the U19 level at this weekend’s regatta in Ottawa, against world junior team competitors.

“It should be good racing,” he said.

Joining him in Minsk will be Brian Malfesi, his teammate with the Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club.

Malfesi will also compete at the under-23 world championships.


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