October 05, 2016 - 1:08 PM
TORONTO - Adam van Koeverden has paddled for the better part of two decades with the single-minded focus required of the world's best athletes.
Now he says it's time to look beyond himself.
A few weeks removed from his fourth and final Olympic appearance, the kayaker is appealing to Canadians to support PLAY, Right to Play's new initiative to help Aboriginal youth in Canada, and a program he's passionate about.
Van Koeverden donated $5,000 to kick-start a donation campaign. He's so far raised close to $25,000, but hopes to hit $100,000 by the end of 2016.
"It's recognizing how many people have contributed to my goals, and how selfish I've had to be for the past 15-16 years in order to accomplish my goals," van Koeverden said. "I'm trying to focus on other people and a bigger sort of outlook was really important to me.
"So that was meant to kick it off, and I'd like to have it continue in a sense in that I'd like to start focusing on what other people need."
PLAY — Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth — is already serving more than 3,500 children in 90 communities.
Right to Play (RTP) teaches children, through sport and games, life skills to help them overcome the effects of poverty, conflict and disease.
Van Koeverden said he recognized after the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he raced to gold and bronze, that athletes "have an obligation to do community service. And I've always taken that really seriously and enjoyed the work that I've had the opportunity to do, and engage in with great Canadians, working toward a common goal."
As an athlete ambassador with RTP, the 34-year-old from Oakville, Ont., has travelled to Africa several times, and visited the Palestine territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank last month.
"I have a hard time using very strong positive adjectives to describe trips to the field with Right to Play, because as great as these trips are, and as illuminating and life-affirming and everything, they're still very difficult because it's a real recognition of the challenges that exist in the world," van Koeverden said.
PLAY, he said, is "a recognition that we have some of the same conditions that Right to Play has been trying to alleviate globally. We have some of them here in Canada."
Van Koeverden raced to four Olympic and eight world championship medals over his illustrious career, but last month in Rio, he didn't qualify for the final after a tough start in his semi.
While he called Rio the "last chapter" in his Olympic career, he hasn't walked away from racing entirely. Wednesday morning, like so many other mornings, he was at the Burloak Canoe Club paddling on Oakville's Sixteen Mile Creek, a body of water he could probably navigate with his eyes closed. He covered about two kilometres, compared to the 17K he'd travel in a typical workout.
"But I got on the water, and I enjoyed being in my boat," van Koeverden said. "A lot of people when they quit, they never touch their sport again, but I'm going to be here, I'm going to be down at the canoe club."
He's helping coach, because the busy club has just two coaches for 50 kids. He's also running on a regular basis, and said he wouldn't mind losing some weight. His muscular 190-pound frame — think of a yield sign's shape — has been specifically built to power his kayak.
"I know that I'm not going to be really, really excited about my level of fitness in kayaking, but I want to run a 10K, I want to be a normal human and take on some projects and diversify my portfolio a little bit," he said. "And that means not being singularly focused on racing these skinny little boats. But it's what I love and the canoe club's where I love, and I'm just trying to change the focus a little bit from all about Adam van Koeverden to all about whatever else."
Whatever else has included his dog Cairo. Van Koeverden adopted the dog, who's from Egypt, a few days after returning from Rio, from "Save Our Scruff," a Toronto-based rescue organization.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016