Don’t worry…there’s not about to be another Scrabble-defying acronym like USACKACA plaguing the paddlesports community. But like two rivers meeting at a confluence, there has been a joining of forces that should make for a stronger whole.
After months of discussions, USA Canoe/Kayak, the sport’s competitive governing body, has partnered with the American Canoe Association (ACA), the nation’s oldest and largest paddlesport organization. As part of the agreement, ACA executive director Wade Blackwood will also take over as CEO of USA Canoe/Kayak.
“I feel like I’m the first grandchild of two great and influential families — and there are high expectations,” says Blackwood, the ACA’s executive director since 2009. “We want to create a fun and enjoyable path for anyone with an interest in paddling. Having the recreational and elite competition disciplines under a single leadership creates opportunities to build a pipeline of generations of great paddlers. Paddling is a healthy outdoor activity and many of the great elite paddlers started by enjoying a family canoe trip or having a great summer camp experience learning to kayak.”
Under the agreement, USA Canoe/Kayak’s administrative offices will join those of the ACA in Fredericksburg, Va.; while its High Performance Training Office will remain in Oklahoma City. The new move is also expected to save both associations considerable overhead in the form of salaries.
From 1924 until USA Canoe/Kayak split off from it in the early 1990s, the ACA assumed the roll as national governing body for Olympic paddlesports. At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, prior to the organizational split, the U.S. walked away with four medals, two in the Canoe Sprint discipline won by Greg Barton in K1 (Gold and Bronze) and two in the Canoe Slalom discipline won by Scott Strausbaugh/Joe Jacobi in C2 (Gold) and Dana Chladek in K1W (Bronze). There has been a drought for the U.S. since, as only Dana Chladek (Silver Medal in 1996) and Rebecca Giddens (Silver Medal in 2004) have come home with hardware since the two organizations parted ways. The organizations are banking that joining forces will help rectify that trend.
“There’s an old saying that if you continue doing the same thing over and over again, do not expect different results,” says USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chair Bob Lally. “When the ACA and USA Canoe/Kayak separated, a lot of our canoe/kayak disciplines stopped competing at the highest international levels. In order to change our results and outcomes, we have to strategically change the culture and direction of our nation’s paddling enterprise. Creating a partnership between the ACA and USACK is that dynamic that will help us compete at the highest levels in all canoe/kayak disciplines.”
One of the most dynamic changes is the new sharing of Blackwood as CEO. “Over the last four years the ACA has grown significantly by focusing on education and stewardship programs under Blackwood’s leadership,” says ACA Board Chair Anne Maleady. “The shared CEO role has the opportunity to give the millions of Americans who engage in recreational and elite paddlesports the ability to find programs of interest under a common organization. Whether its stewardship activities or healthy competition; our organizations will offer something for paddlers of all abilities.”
Competitors past and present are also excited about the move. “Reuniting the family of paddlers is a good thing,” says 1952 Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Havens, now 90. “It’s about time.”
Oklahoma City is currently in the process of building a new $42.5 million whitewater facility for U.S. athletes where USACK will be playing host to the 2016 Olympic Team Trials for Canoe Slalom and Canoe Sprint, all while preparing for 22 men and women’s Canoe and Kayaking medal events at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
—See photos from the 2014 Slalom World Championships in Maryland.