Canadian Olympic heroes are few and far between and, unless they're hockey players or male 100m sprinters, the ones that do emerge are easily forgotten in the intervals between the Games. Take Adam van Koeverden. Unless you have a pretty good memory, you're probably asking, "Adam van who?" He was Canada's hero of the day when he won two medals in the K1 Kayak competition at the 2004 Olympic Games.
During inter-Olympiad periods, Canadian heroes can achieve a modicum of notoriety-and income-from endorsements and brief appearances on CBC Sports Saturday. (The nation's all-sports networks seem to have decided that dog racing and poker are more worthy of air time than paddling or track-and-field; amateur sport is for the most part missing from the schedules of TSN and Sportsnet.) The heroes mostly train in obscurity, drawing motivation from the pleasure they get from the sport itself. This is why it is called amateur sport-it's all about the love.
If you haven't heard of Adam van Koeverden, then you definitely haven't heard of Adam Klevinas. The other Adam is an Olympic hopeful in the K2 1000m competition. His best national result was a third place showing in the Senior National Team trials last year in the K1 boat. He is one of only two Canadians who can steer a crew boat, which gives him a good chance at making one of the K2 or K4 teams.
Most Canadians may not yet be thinking about Beijing, but Klevinas is. He grew up in Oakville, like van Koeverden-the two even trained together as part of Canoe Kayak Canada's national team-but Klevinas has more than one sport to brag about. Klevinas was scouted by the Belleville Bulls and was poised to be picked in the 1996 Ontario Hockey League's Under-17 draft: a ticket, if not to the NHL, then at least to a scholarship at an American university. However, the young goaltender turned down the draft, turned down the so-called Canadian dream and started paddling full-time.
Klevinas's friend Mark Oldershaw had left hockey the year before, when he failed to make the Burlington AAA Bantam team. Mark's dad was the Olympic paddling coach, so when hockey didn't work out, Mark took to the water and Adam soon followed. "I started paddling in the summer because I was tired of playing hockey year-round," says Klevinas. "I played on a provincial hockey team in the summer and I didn't like it very much. I was just getting sick of it so I just started paddling and I liked it better."
Seven years later, he is now funded by Sport Canada, and looking to spend the summer in Europe competing in World Cup races and the World Championships in Hungary. A journalism student at Concordia, Klevinas is fortunate to be able to train full-time, thanks to the money and tuition waivers he receives. "You lose this part of your brain that is worried about money. All of a sudden you've gone from making very, very little to making what some adults would want to make."
The twenty-three-year-old Klevinas trains about thirty hours a week: ten sessions on the water plus daily dry-land training in the weight room or on the roads. Last semester he also took five undergraduate courses. It was a challenging few months, but he managed to get by (barely). "I am exhausted at this point," he says. "I can train full-time and take three classes and that's probably my happy medium. This year I said, 'Screw this, I'm taking five [courses].' I basically did it because Adam van Koeverden took five last fall, after coming back from the Olympics. He was spending six nights a week at galas and parties in downtown Toronto and taking five courses and still training full-time. I thought, if he can do that, I can take five no problem."
The situation is mostly ideal. Despite spotty support from the sport's governing body, Klevinas is able to make a living doing what he loves to do. It is frustrating, he says, that Canoe Kayak Canada focusses most of its energy on Olympic medallists and Karen Furneaux, while largely ignoring the rest of the team. "I'm not Adam van Kouverden, so my relationship with them is difficult. I don't do anything for them because I'm not a world champion or an Olympic champion. They don't treat you that well."
An example of this can be found in the ongoing problems with the national team's boat contract. "We have a boat sponsor but it is with a company that nobody likes," says Klevinas. "Everyone else paddles in this [boat from] another company that we want to be sponsored by and that wants to sponsor us-we all want to race in their boats when we go to Europe and Worlds-but they won't let us because there's one lady who won't sign the contract. So when we travel to Europe, we don't have a choice what boats we use. That we don't have a say in something like that is ridiculous. We're fighting for hundredths of a second-if we're more comfortable in a boat we think will go those hundredths of a second faster ..."
Young, amateur athletes are often told what is good for them. All of the current national team members are under the age of twenty-five, which could mean a big medal haul in Beijing, or perhaps in London, but only if they can overcome (or ignore) administrative incompetence and public apathy. It sometimes seems as though, in Canada, amateur athletes are competing against one another more than they are against their actual competitors.
Klevinas says that public apathy doesn't bother him, nor does the fact that any exposure the sport gets is because of his eponym. "This year, the day [van Koeverden] came second in the K1 1000m at the Worlds, the only paper that ran a story was the Toronto Star-and it was on the back page. It gets downplayed a lot. How do we deal with it? We just deal with it."
Where, then, does the motivation come from? "When I'm done paddling I want to say, 'I've done this, I've done that, I've gone here and gone there; experienced this.' These are the kind of things you can't predict before they happen, but it's kind of fun to set those goals. Those are the kinds of things that motivate you daily."
While the NHLPA is fighting for more multi-millions and scoring goals for incentive-laden contracts, Canada's other athletes are motivating themselves from within. Hopeful and realistic, Adam Klevinas says he will probably retire from competitive paddling after the 2008 Olympic Games. He doesn't want to coach, but he will probably remain involved and still get in the boat for exercise, rather than go for a run or a bike ride. "You're on the water," he says, "and that you can't beat."
John Lofranco takes breaks from rigorous training to push the limits of sports writing for Maisonneuve. His column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by John Lofranco.