Racing ahead. Photo credit: Balint Vekassy

By Thomas Hall

With four Olympic medals, two World Championship titles, and a collection of World Cup wins, Canadian Adam van Koeverden is undoubtedly a great in the sport of sprint kayak, but there is more to Adam than two blades and a boat. Canoe & Kayak caught up with van Koeverden between flights to talk about giving back and finding balance in his fast-paced life.

Canoe & Kayak Magazine: What have you been up to since London?
Adam van Koeverden: I took a break from training and just said, 'yes' to everything. Over 25 speaking engagements; I hosted the Canadian Culinary Championships; I was on the Rick Mercer Report; and an adventure bucket list show called Make it Happen; I interned at Sid Lee (the hippest Ad Agency in the world); I travelled back to London to speak at the Canadian High Commission about sport and my dad's experience with Parkinson's disease; I insulated my little cabin in Algonquin Park; I took guitar lessons; I started boxing; and I climbed Kilimanjaro, helping to raise $130K for Right to Play.

Why Kilimanjaro?
James Dodds, a guy from Toronto, wanted to raise money for Right to Play and thought this would be a good way to do it. I was offered the role of Athlete Ambassador, and I took it. It would be my third trip to Africa, and I knew I could help promote the Right to Play. I'm not a social worker, I don't have those skills, but I have gone to see Right to Play at work—to get dirt under my finger nails— and can attest to, and promote, the awesome job they do. The goal was $100K, and we raised about $130K.

Tell me about the climb.
It was incredible! I couldn't believe what my lungs and heart were doing at the altitude—almost 6,000m. I've never felt so physically weak in my life; just walking was brutal. Mentally, the challenge was the time. We train for 2hrs at a stretch, so to be out hiking for 13hrs was a real change for me. I had to quiet my mind and just concentrate quietly on walking. I feel like I had time to develop spiritually a little. Not in a religious sense, I just had time to be more or less alone in my head. I am surprised I enjoyed that as much as I did. Culturally, the experience was incredibly enlightening, as all of my trips to Africa have been. The people you meet are always the greatest highlight.

Do you think an athlete of your profile is obliged to give back?
I don't know if I'd call it an obligation as much as a personal choice to take great opportunities for growth and learning. I feel it's important to give back to the system that has given me so much. What I like about Right to Play, is it's about sport being a right, not a privilege. Kids should be able to play; kids should be able to be kids. Given what sport has done for me, it's natural for me to want to support that idea.

Does taking time to give back impact your performance as an athlete?
There's a trade-off, giving back helps to complete me, which might have a positive impact on my performance, but missing practice could be harmful if it happens a lot. I think giving back helps to keep everything in perspective; helps me find balance. I'm lucky to be where I am today, and giving back is the very least I can do.

What’s next for you in sport, and life?
It'll take a pull factor, not a push factor, to get me to give up my sport. I won't let sport push me out. Injuries? I'll heal. Bad results? I'll do better. Bad relationships? I'll change 'em. No funding? I'll do it for free. I still want to paddle, and I want to race. But I want to do it a little differently. I just turned 31; I want to live outside the box a little bit. Short answer is, adventure.

Having fun. Photo credit: Right to Play