Paddling for gold at Pan American games

Kayaker Alexa Irvin helps Team Canada bring home gold medal

- November 28, 2011

Alexa Irvin (second from right) and her K4 team celebrate their gold medals at the Pan American Games. (Photo provided)
Alexa Irvin (second from right) and her K4 team celebrate their gold medals at the Pan American Games. (Photo provided)

The paddles driving into the water, the finish line rushing into sight, and the competition behind there any other feeling quite like it?

Not for Alexa Irvin, a second-year science student at Dalhousie. Last month, she took home a gold medal in woman’s kayaking as a part of Team Canada in the Pan American games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Now back in Halifax, she’s still buzzing about her win, but also reflective on the difficulties of being a professional athlete and a full-time student.

Ms. Irvin grew up in Kentville, N.S. and started kayaking when she was 12 years old, taking after her father who was part of a national paddling team. Even now, as a Dalhousie student, she spends the entirety of second semester in Florida, from January to April, for training. The team lives in apartment-style housing while training on local canals and rivers.

“It’s a great atmosphere, and many of my closest friends are paddlers,” says Ms. Irvin, who is the youngest woman on the national kayak team (and the second-youngest overall).

While she was thrilled about her experience in Guadalajara, it was hardly her first time in a major competition. She competed at the Pan American Canoe Championships in Mexico City in 2010 and won gold in the Jr. K1 1000m race (one person kayak). She also raced internationally as a junior from 2008 to 2010.

The Pan American Games themselves are a rather huge deal – with 6,000 athletes from 42 nations participating in 36 sports, it’s not far behind the Olympics as one of the world’s largest sporting events.

“The Pan Am Games was a really great experience because it was a multi-sport games event,” says Ms. Irvin. “It was great to be a part of Team Canada; I like getting to interact with other athletes who have similar goals.”

She’s modest but proud of her contributions to Team Canada, and says that she enjoyed her time in Mexico. “It was the first time there were so many non-athlete spectators, and we felt like celebrities and were asked for our autograph when walking down the street.”

At the moment Ms. Irvin focuses 50 per cent of her time at school, and 50 per cent of her time kayaking, and she’s not yet sure what she’s going to do following her degree. But she’s certainly making her family proud – she paddles alongside her dad whenever she can. “I am faster than him now, it’s become a bit of a family competition.” 

You can spot Alexa around campus and congratulate her on her win with Team Canada, and wish her luck as she and her teammates think ahead to the next Pan American games in Toronto in 2015!


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