This is an article published July 16th, 2014 by Curtis Stock from the Edmonton Journal.
EDMONTON – Ben Hayward is making waves: in the water, on the streets of Europe and, most importantly, in the world whitewater kayak slalom standings.
With two recent top-10 World Cup finishes — in Slovenia and the Czech Republic — Hayward has moved from 55th place all the way to 11th.
Hayward’s success traces directly back to him being injury-free.
“I had shoulder problems dating back to 2009. Both shoulders were bad, but the left one was particularly painful and it kept slipping out,” said Hayward, who had surgery in 2012 to repair the damages.
“The operation made a world of difference. Last year, with my body not hurting anymore, I had two top-15 finishes and — because I was out of the water for six months — that was without training for the whole winter. That told me the potential was there.”
This year, with more training and his shoulder another year stronger, Hayward has taken another quantum leap forward in a sport where the goal is to navigate a kayak through a river rapids course of hanging gates — usually 20 of them — in the fastest time.
Like slalom skiing, but with the snow replaced by churning water, whitewater slalom kayaking has been an Olympic sport since 1992.
“It’s an interesting sport,” said Edmonton’s Hayward, 24. “While a lot of sports are 90 per cent fitness or technique, whitewater slalom is about 50 per cent fitness and 50 per cent technical skills.
“It takes a lot of physical strength, but a huge part is also how to read the whitewater. Dealing with so many different types of rivers, you have to make decisions based on what the currents are doing and how they will affect your boat.”
Hayward first tried kayak polo at the Kinsmen Sports Centre when he was 12, then took up the demanding athletic endeavour of kayak slalom when he was 14. Just a year later, he made the Canadian junior team. When he was 18, he made the national senior team.
“Basically, I tried kayaking because I sucked at soccer and wanted to try something different,” he said.
Something different also explains Hayward’s mode of transportation.
Along with his buddy, Adam Williams, Hayward constructed a vehicle in Cardiff, Wales, that looks like a wooden box on wheels and, with its round back door, suggests something out Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
“I used my knowledge from studying architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa to build it,” he said. “I originally wanted to get a big, box van. Something reliable and something in my price range. But everything was too expensive, so Adam and I decided to build something from scratch.”
Using Canadian maple for the box, the frame of a British-made automobile and a Ford engine, the total cost was under $4,000.
“People are always stopping and staring at it,” said Hayward, who built it to substantially cut down on expenses.
“This way, I can eat and sleep in it. Getting hotels is just too expensive. Now there’s no rent anymore. I still have to pay for utilities and fuel, but it’s a massive cost savings.
“When you add it all up, it costs about $40,000 to travel, train and compete,” said Hayward.
In an effort to attract sponsorship dollars, Hayward has started his own website: Vanstarter.com to help outfit the interior. Launched on July 7, he has already raised over $7,000.
“In the first 10 hours that I started the website, I took in $4,000,” said Hayward. “I was completely blown away by how quickly people got behind this project and supported me.”
Currently training at Deep Creek in Maryland, which will be the site of the world championships in September, Hayward will be back in his caravan in Europe next week to compete in the final two World Cup races at Barcelona, Spain, and Augsburg, Germany.
“The caravan is parked in Barcelona, so it will be ready to go when I get there. Then I’ll drive it to Germany, which is about an 18-hour trip.”
Hayward will come back to Ontario to compete in the Canadian championships at the end of August and the world championships in Maryland. Then he will return to Europe.
“I’ll be living in the caravan for the better part of the next two years. This will allow me to travel to all the best training venues and train with some of the best paddlers in the world. It will also give me a lot more race experience,” he said.
Hayward’s goals are not modest. First, he wants to medal in next year’s Pan Am Games at Toronto. Then he wants to get to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The weird thing about the Olympics is it’s arguably actually one of the easiest races to win because only one person from each country can compete,” he said. “For example, last year, the Germans finished 1-2-3 in the world standings, but they can only send one of them to the Olympics.”
Apart from being healthy, another reason Hayward has recently excelled is he has been using sports psychology techniques to stay focused.
“I used to get really nervous before big races, especially with the crowd yelling and the commentators talking about you,” he said. “I use a lot of visualizations techniques to switch off my brain.
“I try to stay humble — I don’t like to put more pressure on myself — but with my current training plan, I am very optimistic for the future.”
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