|Photo: Benjamin Hjort|
When we talked to Valerie Bertrand, the 31-year-old Quebec native’s bell had just been seriously rung in the Norwegian kiteskiing championships, after a fierce gust unexpectedly grabbed her kite and dragged her upside down across a few hundred yards of frozen, rocky tundra. Concussed, the uber-athlete was in recovery mode as she discussed her new home in Norway, competing in world championships in five different paddling disciplines and experiencing an Olympic level awakening. – Joe Carberry
I started kayaking at 18 when a friend let me try one in the pool. It was pretty easy. I learned to roll and was running Class IV in two days (which wasn’t pretty). I always loved water. It felt natural.
I worked as a raft guide on the Ottawa and when I wasn’t rafting I was freestyling. I made the Canadian freestyle team and ever since the 2001 worlds in Spain, I decided to do it all. I’ve competed in world championships for freestyle, rafting, surf kayaking, creeking and slalom.
I love to try different things. I actually made the national rafting team before the kayaking team. I was on the Canadian rafting team for nine years and now three for Norway. My boyfriend is from Norway and we were tired of doing the long distance thing so I moved over here.
In 2007, Ed [Skrzypkowski] from Murky Waters, who produces squirt kayaks and sponsors me, said, “We should send you to Spain for the surf kayak worlds to see how you do.” I tried surfing and set my focus. I worked to understand the game before going over and was able to win it. All together, I’ve won four world titles, three in squirt and one in surf.
The Norwegian Federation is really trying to pump up slalom. It has been dead here for the last 10 years. They were looking for good paddlers who were into creek racing. So they’ve been pushing Mariann Saether and me to compete by giving us support.
You normally have to do qualifying races to enter the world cup tour to compete at the world championships. But they allowed extra spots for new countries and only two Norwegians, us.
It was sick. We have a lot to learn. These are Olympic athletes and the level is different. They base their lives on it. With no experience, if you just pop up to see how it goes you get a slap in the face. It’s a different game for sure. At worlds I screwed up in the first run and had to go after current Olympic champion Elena Kaliska from Slovakia. I finished 65th.
We’re shooting for the 2012 Olympics in London. There are only 30 spots. I was number 50 after last season. This season I want to get into the top 40, and maybe top 30 by 2012. To be realistic, it’s going to be tough but I don’t see it as impossible. You’re separated in seconds from the top. It’s a lot of training.
People ask me why I compete for Norway when I’m from Canada. I’ll always be from Canada. But Norway is the country I work in now [as a school teacher]. It makes me proud to represent the county I live and train in and the people I work with.