Two local teens, 13-year-old Daniel Parry of Port Sydney and 13-year-old Owen McKay of Huntsville are members of Muskoka Kayak School (MKS). They recently travelled to Poland with coach Andy Parry where they participated in the Mayor’s Cup competition in Kraków. Daniel placed first in the K1 slalom kayak competition and Owen came in second place. The K1 category involves single person kayaks; paddlers sit in the boat and use a double-bladed paddle to navigate a course.
An invitation to attend the Polish race, which is part of a Polish National ranking championship, came from Daniel’s new coach who is both Polish and the Team Canada coach.
The boys’ outstanding results are an inspiration to other young athletes and a source of pride and encouragement for their coaches and families.
Andy, who is Daniel’s father as well as the owner of MKS explains, “Daniel has been paddling on whitewater since he was eight, whereas Owen started properly just last year.”
Daniel was expected to win the races last weekend, notes Andy. “He is considerably faster in kayak than all the others in his age group and he is expected to be a contender for a Canadian team spot in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.”
Owen, meanwhile, was not expected to achieve a podium place. “His performances were outstanding,” says Andy. “Owen was the star of all the Canadian paddlers at the race. Senior National coaches and the Canadian Olympic paddlers who were there all commented on how well Owen raced.”
It was a “very pleasant and unexpected surprise” for Muskoka Kayak School to have both first and second place finishers, says Andy.
Andy started Muskoka Kayak School in 2015 to develop young paddlers both athletically and as a whole person, says Andy’s wife, Steph Parry. “The kids are encouraged to be independent and are taught to look after their equipment and be responsible for what they need to go out on the water. Play is also encouraged as the philosophy is to foster a love of the sport for years to come. Getting the balance of training and playing is tricky and is deliberately calculated and adjusted, depending on what is going on with the kids at the time. Differentiation is also key to our philosophy. What is good for one athlete is not necessarily good for another.”
Owen’s parent are Ben and Katie McKay. Owen is the oldest of the couple’s four children. Mom Katie says, “Owen has always enjoyed participating in organized sports. This is his third summer paddling with MKS. He was inspired to join because some of his friends from MUSAC [Muskoka Aquatic Club] paddled and he would be able to spend more time with them. Additionally, Andy had coached his swim team, and Owen responded well to his coaching style and wanted to work more with Andy.”
Owen’s younger siblings have been involved in MKS, MUSAC, and the Arrowhead Nordic Club’s Jackrabbit program. “I love programs like these that invite older participants to be positive role models to younger ones,” says Katie. “I am incredibly grateful to all of these programs have done for my kids and for exposing my children to such positive teenage role models.”
Katie isn’t surprised by Owen’s level of interest. She explains, “He has always loved competition: hockey tournaments, swim meets, ski races, school track and field meets, etc. He thrives on seeing how good he can get at things. He tries his best in both practice time and competition time, works hard, and considers the feedback his coaches provide as he strives to develop his skills further. I think he also transfers skills and experiences from different sports into new situations so he is comfortable trying new things too.”
Likewise, Daniel’s parents Steph and Andy agree that Daniel seems to enjoy training and rarely needs to be pushed. Steph and Andy are both teachers and while school and academics is important to them, they see the value in sports, travel, and physical activity.
“Andy is always incorporating learning opportunities even when they are off the water,” says Steph. “They may not be traditional classroom lessons, but they are learning about the architectural and cultural differences, working with different currencies and the math that is associated with exchange rates and of course negotiating different languages. We work with Daniel’s teacher to make sure that he gets whatever homework needs to get done, done.”
Andy recounts, “I have started and coached a lot of young paddlers in the past. They went on to be national, world champions and Olympic medallists in various canoe/kayak disciplines.”
Parry and his young competitors are also going to four European Canoe Association Junior Slalom Cup races, which will be held in Italy, Slovenia, Austria, and Czech Republic. Stay tuned. It seems that these young athletes are just getting started!
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