After rigorous sessions in ice-caked rivers and boat training since being able to walk, two 16-year-old Colorado teens have won their way up the ranks, grasping spots on the U.S. Junior National Whitewater Slalom Team.
While representing Team Colorado Whitewater Racing, or TCWR, a nonprofit club based in Lyons, Luca Bohn of Boulder and Andrew Delker of Lyons placed top three in their respective heats, earning international places on the under-18 team.
The races, held in the artificial waters of Riversport in Oklahoma City, featured dozens of slalom racers of all ages, but Bohn and Delker, with head-strong attitudes and life-long experience, crushed the competition. And after the undeniable achievement of training and mastering the waters, the teenagers have become two out of six under-18 racers on the national team.
Bohn finished first in the canoe class. Canoe slalom involves maneuvering down or up a river of rapids, keeping the best time of two heats. Delker took third in extreme slalom, a new addition to Olympic water sports. The newly-added competition involves the same concept as the normal slalom but with four boats racing at a time.
Both competitions appear as difficult as they are, with boats flipping, turns coming in hairpin fashion, and waters rushing with frigid undertones.
TCWR Head Coach Liam Malakoff, a one-time member of the U.S. junior team, spoke of the two racers with both pride and kinship, chuckling as he noted, “Delker is a fiery spirit. A dynamo of enthusiasm, passion, and high energy. Meanwhile, Bohn is calm and determined. He often stands back in his sunglasses, waiting for the moment to strike a joke.”
But no specific personality archetype has helped one gain the edge over the other. Both racers have become top of their class, regardless of their steely and fiery spirits.
“They have this really refined and nuanced grasp on what a piece of water is going to do,” Malakoff noted. “It’s not about the physical strength or build. It’s that understanding that comes from being in boats since they were toddlers.”
Bohn and Delker are now eligible to represent the United States at international competitions. Bohn is already planning to compete in the Junior World Whitewater Slalom Championship in Krakow, Poland this August. Also, the TCWR paddlers are heading to Spain this summer to compete there.
TCWR provides programs for young people interested in whitewater racing or just learning to stay afloat on a canoe or kayak. And, on Saturday, May 27 through Wednesday, May 31, the club is offering an introductory program for kids ages 9 to 13.
“Overall, we provide the program to teach interested kids how to read the river and flip the boat back over,” Malakoff said regarding the upcoming introduction. “We don’t look to push them into racing at that age.”
Malakoff went on to note the character-building benefits of getting into the sport and checking out the program.
He said, “If they are interested, it can teach agency, mindfulness, fitness, and relationships. It rewards being present and creating a rapport with the others on the water.”
For more information, check out TCWR’s Facebook page or email [email protected].
Correction: The under 18 team is made up of six members, not 12. The Oklahoma City slalom featured dozens not hundreds of racers.