Alec Voorhees cleaning an air blunt at freestyle worlds. Photo Regina Nicolardi

Alec Voorhees cleaning an air blunt at freestyle worlds. Photo Regina Nicolardi

Alec Voorhees, at age 18, led the pack heading into the junior men’s finals of the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championship.

"It was for him to win or lose," said Ken Hoeve, commentator for the event. On his first of three rides, Voorhees’s point total was not very strong. During the second ride, something went wrong. It appeared Voorhees sustained an injury to his right shoulder during the run. "When he was sitting in the eddy you could tell that something was definitely wrong," Hoeve said. "I was curious, and I didn’t want to say anything to the crowd, but I know Alec, and looking at him I knew he hurt his shoulder."

With Voorhees’s injury in the heat of the final, it seemed his campaign for a world championship title had come to a screeching halt, and he would be left to complete his last worlds as a junior finishing in the fifth-place position. Instead of accepting this, Voorhees gathered every ounce of grit he had, and prepared himself for his final ride.

"I was going to do that ride if it killed me," Voorhees said.

Silver medalist Alec Voorhees (USA) fighting through the pain. Photo Regina Nicolardi

Silver medalist Alec Voorhees (USA) fighting through the pain. Photo Regina Nicolardi

Grimacing with pain, Voorhees dropped into the wave, and began going through the routine he knew could put him on top. "I could definitely feel everything going through my shoulder. I gave it all I had." The last stand would capture Voorhees the silver medal.

Growing up in a family of kayakers on Idaho’s Payette River shaped Voorhees. Before he was even old enough to sit in a boat he was hanging around the takeout. His parents, Jody and Mike, would take turns keeping an eye on him and his younger brothers Hayden and Connor, while the parents paddled laps on the renowned big water Class V North Fork. By age 2 he was in an inflatable with his parents, running the lower Class III sections, and by 8 he was in a kayak with a combat roll. Ten years later, he is a freestyle worlds silver and bronze medalist, not to mention a top-five finisher in the North Fork Championship, one of the most extreme paddling races in the world, which just happens be his home run.

"It’s super cool to be able to go out and have the whole family on the water," Voorhees says of having a paddling family. "They have all been very supportive in my kayaking. My parents work very hard to help me get to all the places I want to go, and make sure I get the time on the water that I need as well."

Fortunately for Voorhees, the Payette also has one of the premium man-made freestyle features in the country at Kelly’s Whitewater Park, providing him a local feature with the dynamics to prepare him for competing on the international level. Along with training at Kelly’s Whitewater Park, Voorhees also instructs at the course, teaching for a Valley County program free to residents 10-18 years old. "It is super cool to be able to introduce these kids to an amazing sport that is very accessible and safe with Kelly’s in their backyard. I started paddling on the Payette, so this opportunity to teach there is pretty awesome!"

Following freestyle worlds Voorhees didn’t waste any time showing his creek racing abilities, heading over to Austria for early October’s Adidas Sickline, arguably the most competitive extreme kayak race in the world. Voorhees finished 24th overall, with an impressive ninth place qualifying time against 151 of the finest international creek racers, while still recovering from his sprained shoulder sustained at Garb.

Next he has his sights set on qualifying for the 2016 Whitewater Grand Prix, something that has eluded him to date.

"Out of five qualifying events I have gone to, I have been one place off of qualifying four times,” Voorhees says. “I am on the cusp so hopefully I’ll catch a break."

The freestyle worlds on the Ottawa, Voorhees last as a junior, was possibly his greatest accomplishment to date and yet his greatest disappointment. Going into the event he wanted nothing but gold, and the injury to his shoulder was no excuse. After some time to reflect following the event he has realized the accomplishment.

"The few days after the event I was crushed,” says the silver medalist. "After much love, support, and time to think, I am proud of how I did. One of my best friends, Emily Jackson, said before and after the event, ‘Competitions don’t define how good we are as a paddler, they just allow us the opportunity to showcase what we are capable of.'”

For 18-year-old Alec Voorhees, his showcase on the Ottawa proves his determination and ability to become one of the best all-around paddlers in the sport.

— Read the previous installments of our FREESTYLE FOCUS series with profiles on SAGE DONNELLY and ADRIENE LEVKNECHT.