Senior Selection 2021
I'd better get the big one over and done with. Senior selection in 2020 was cancelled the day we arrived at the race venue - sensibly, obviously. This year, again, we've now heard from the International Panel that the race will be at least delayed, and possibly cancelled altogether. It's been a year of winding up for a race that might happen, then deflating again when it appears that once again it will be cancelled. I honestly don't believe it's anyones fault, and I definitely advocate caution when it comes to running events that, at the end of the day, are predominantly run by volunteers who come into the vulnerable category. Whatever it takes to keep everyone safe should be our priority as a sport.
But where is slalom going? It's so easy to feel lost at the moment. From a personal point of view, it's exhausting to stay motivated when your expectations are continuously raised and shut down in succession, and there's no real way of gauging your improvement. In Scotland we're at least allowed to train on whitewater. Other groups of paddlers in the country don't even have access to gates, which is a position I really can't imagine, 12 weeks out from (hopefully) the first race of the season.
Whatever happens with racing this year, it's going to be a game changer for slalom. There is such a wide variety of positions for athletes all over the world - some are able to travel for warm weather training camps, some have full time access to race venues. Others, like I said earlier, are completely unable to train at all. Maybe it's an opportunity? The money saved by the vast majority of paddlers who haven't had to fund an entire (and possibly another) season, could mean greater investment in the coming seasons. The more places people go to race, the more equipment and cameras and bigger events and more time spent, is better for the sport.
But it's offset by the paddlers who have suffered financially during the crisis, or who simply don't have the energy to carry on through another year of uncertainty. This year will be crippled by rules that are different for everyone, which could easily mean a bigger disparity between those athletes on full support programs, and those who aren't. It's impossible to predict at this stage, but for any paddlers reading - I just hope you're ok. It's hard to admit you're having a shit time, when sport is so far away from "essential" that it feels ridiculous to complain about it. I want to say that if everyone seizes the opportunity to start from scratch - make this sport the one you want it to be, when you train in whatever way you can, and demonstrate resilience through every part of your life - then we could come out the other side of this with a much better sport than we had before the pandemic.
Make something real
One of the things I've been focusing on over the last year, as (if you've gotten this far, thank you!) I've demonstrated through some of my more recent blog posts, is separating real from fiction. We're a digital generation now, more so than we would have been without COVID. This is great in a lot of ways; we can communicate with our friends and family, share experiences that we probably wouldn't have been through outside of lockdown. But it does engender an environment on social media that I think is REALLY important to reality check. All the time. I'm completely guilty of this, but it's so easy to show the bits of life that are photogenic and pretty, easygoing and carefree. I worked a 10 hour office shift yesterday, but the two parts of my day that I shared on social media were my full runs in the morning, and the photoshoot I did with my partners company (286 West) on a SUP in the evening.
That's not a realistic picture of how my day actually went. But it's hard - I rely on my platforms for sponsorship, coverage and creating trust. I need to think more about how to nurture the trust people already put on these platforms (again, if you're reading this - that's you!). I've decided that now whenever I post a photo of myself that has good lighting, that makes me look lean and smooth - I'll always attach a photo next to it that shows what the reality of that picture is. I am quite lean - I train a LOT - but those beautiful photos are not how I look every day. I don't want to contribute to the impossible standards that are placed on human beings now, who are attached to the internet not out of choice, but a need for human interaction.
Also I should probably add as a side note - if you follow my social media accounts, you've probably noticed that I do occasionally "attack" certain brands for their marketing. Specifically gym companies who unnecessarily distinguish between men's and women's equipment in order of "weight lifted" or aesthetic priority. This isn't spontaneous or flippant. I ALWAYS email the point of contact for the brand first, to give them an opportunity to explain themselves. But I've been an athlete for too long, promoting both women and men in sport, to have an excuse to sit on the side line and not say anything. It goes to social media to pressure companies to rethink their branding if they can't give me an explanation, and when at least a few other athletes have expressed that they feel the same way as me about the message. It's not good to attack brands, but it is good when they change their message - which I'm proud to say, all of them have so far.