I think the period between selection and the summer is dreaded a little by canoeists. Certainly I have found it tough this year, and I know others feel the same. Part of you is wildly supportive of the strong team put forward to race at the Worlds in Australia, and the other part is...well, a bit empty. There is kind of an intense high for training immediately after selection, where all you want to do is train as hard as you possibly can for next year. And then you realise you are just a bit tired, and maybe it really is okay to rest for a few days.
Having said that, it was really great getting back into strength and conditioning, and starting to feel strong again. There is something incredibly satisfying about methodical, numerical training. It is now two weeks since selection, and finally, I'm starting to feel the burn again. Myself and my teammate are organising ourselves, and a long, amazing summer of racing in Europe is starting to take shape. Paddlers can expect to see us racing the Danubia Cup in Bratislava, and the ICF International in Ivrea, Italy.
As I said in my previous post, some difficult decisions are facing Scottish Canoeists at this time. But if any of them are looking for guidance, as I have been for the last two weeks, I can only offer this; remember it is YOU who makes yourself, nobody else. It is your hard work, your effort, your sacrifices that make you you. And that comes with a bonus- nobody can take you away from yourself. You are the athlete you want to be, and if you want it enough, it will happen. It might take ages. I know I am going to have the lowest lows and the highest highs before I achieve what I want. But thats okay, because I will work for as long as and as hard as it takes to get there. Coaches, physios, psychology support and the like are all an important part of it, and they may have a lot of influence on the shape of your progression. But at the end of the day, its your sport, and your love. You can never ask anyone else to do it for you, as much as nobody else should ever try and make it about them.
Personally, I would say that my parents have been the strongest source of guidance for me. Not many other people see you at both your best and your worst, or share your highs and your lows. I know that loads of canoeists would agree with me, and it happens that sometimes, the children get the opportunity to give back something. Even if that something is as small as being there. Being there for someone you love most, while they fight one of the most important battles of their life. It throws our sport into perspective, when a teammate, and someone you care about, has to be there for their mum while she tries to be even more strong than she already is. Which is seriously tough. At the end of our day, we do our sport because we love it, and I know I speak at least for my mum when I say that she loves that I love it. So coming out the other side of the last two bleak weeks, I can say I can't wait for the summer, and all the racing it will bring. That I love my sport, and my parents, for making it worth it. And that I know when it comes to it, my favourite people are going to be as strong as I know they can be.
Well that went quickly. I learned a lot about myself during selection. That actually, my mental attitude isn't bad at all. That, at the end of the day, I do canoeing because I love it. That its probably one of the most disappointing things in the world, when it finally sinks in that you've trained for 12 months, as hard as you can, for it not to go quite right on the weekend when it really counts. Penalties, big mistakes, and 'nearly' - kept me awake all night once the race was over. Nearly isn't good enough - not when so many people are so good, and when racing becomes as tight as it was at London. Its hard to take in, when you were so ready to do awesome, that really it didn't go as planned. Don't get me wrong, I felt good - my paddling style was the best its ever been, and the majority of each run was my best. Just on each run I seemed to consistently make one big, devastating mistake, be it a penalty or a missed stroke. A lot of people said 'hard luck' to me at the time. And at the time it made me feel a lot better, because it kind of confirmed that I was expected to do better, that people weren't accepting this as 'me'. But now, the race is done, my break is almost over, and all I want to do is reduce the percentage chance of that 'luck', and make good runs unquestionable, unavoidable.
A lot of decisions face Scottish canoeists at this time. For me, I need to consider the factors that can make me better, and the ones that could impede me on my way to being the best. To start with, I'm going to spend as much time racing and training abroad as possible this summer. Entries are already sent to races in Italy and Bratislava, and a plan is beginning to take shape. But the people around me are just as pivotal to training as the camps themselves, and this is where the issues are going to be for the next few months. The future is most definitely uncertain, except for one factor - the amount of time, effort and hard work I am willing to commit. It is indefinite, and no amount of disappointment or political uncertainty can devalue slalom for me. For me, it is worth it, and every bad race I have had can only make me better. And every good race is a simple testament to the idea that eventually, hard work DOES pay off.
A lot of my teammates and friends did amazing at the weekend, and I am so proud - I train with these people almost every single day, and seeing someone else's goals being reached makes me even more determined to reach mine. The next year is going to be tough, because I'm going to make it tough. I love my sport, and I love everything it gives back. I had my last talk with Blairgowrie High School today, and the emphasis was on 'winning attitudes.' The talk was specifically to emphasise the importance of hard work and effort. It also discussed 'scoreboard winning' versus personal winning/gains. For me, I want my races to reflect how I feel I paddle in training, and the only way to get better about this is to spend more time in my boat
Amber Maslen is 25 years old, and been racing canoe slalom since she was 15. Currently on the Scottish Performance Squad.