Austin Pigeon and Josh Abbott-Tate star at national championships
BY BILL POTRECZ
Austin Pigeon and Josh Abbott-Tate did themselves and the South Niagara Canoe Club proud last month at the 2019 Canoe Kayak Canada Sprint National Championships, in Regina.
Pigeon and Abbott-Tate teamed up to win a gold medal in the U-16 C2 (two athletes) 1,000-metre race. It was the first medal for the South Niagara Canoe Club at nationals.
“It was good for the club and shows that the program is going well,” coach and former Olympian KC Fraser said.
Both athletes also raced in the 1,000-, 500- and 200-metre, and 6-kilometre C1 events, with Pigeon adding a gold in the 6K and a bronze in the 1,000.
Fraser, an Oakville native who participated in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, had high hopes for the duo after they performed well at the WOD Western Ontario Division qualifier at the Welland Flatwater Centre.
“I wanted them to do well this year,” she said. “They’ve been working really hard all year from September on.
“Because it is so competitive in their age category in Ontario, it gave us a good idea how they were going to do and after seeing how much distance they won by at WOD, it gave me confidence they were going to be on the podium.”
Pigeon, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at Jean Vanier, competed against older athletes in the U16 category.
“It’s a pretty big achievement considering he is only 15,” Fraser said. “He has another year in this division. A lot of the guys who had beaten him are done. They move up to U18. It’s was pretty big.”
Pigeon wasn’t quite sure what he would find competing on a national stage.
“I didn’t know. I had no expectations or anything,” he said.
Pigeon began the sport by chance five years ago.
“Our club used to be in the same building as the Notre Dame Rowing Club, so my brother signed up for the rowing camp. My mom needed me to do something and I was too young to do the rowing so she put me in that,” he explained.
Pigeon didn’t have much time to enjoy the medal. As soon as he returned home, he began preparing for an Olympic Hopes event in Slovakia for Olympic hopeful athletes.
“It was pretty cool. They were pretty fast. It’s a lot bigger of a sport in those countries, you can really tell,” Pigeon said.
Abbott-Tate, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at E. L. Crossley, acknowledged the competition was tough in Regina.
“I was hoping to win, but I didn’t really know if we could,” he said. “It was pretty difficult. We had to work hard to win. It wasn’t easy. It definitely showed why we are getting up that early and practising.”
Abbott-Tate grew up playing hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer until trying canoeing at summer camp. He was immediately hooked.
“I did the kids’ camp when I was younger and I enjoyed it doing it in the summer for fun, so I decided to join it for a sport,” he said.
He said the key to the gold medal with Pigeon was teamwork.
“You have to be for crew boats— you have to be together a lot. You can’t be working against each other. It is quite physically demanding.”
The season may be over, but the duo is still on at the Welland Flatwater Centre for another six weeks or so. After that, they move indoors for the winter to concentrate on weights and running.
“You have to show up at practice, put the work in, and listen to what the coaches have to say,” Pigeon said. “I love it. I wouldn’t be coming here at five in the morning if I didn’t like it.”