A former cross-country skier in college, Kaitlyn McElroy has transformed herself into one of the best paddlers in the country.
A member of the Oklahoma City University varsity canoe/kayak team, McElroy also is pursuing her second bachelor's degree and wants to attend graduate school. That doesn't seem very remarkable except for the fact that McElroy didn't learn to read until the fourth grade.
“They (teachers) had not predicted a particularly bright future for me in academia or in the workforce,” McElroy said.
Now, the 27-year-old native of Maine is excelling both academically and athletically.
On Saturday, McElroy and her partner, Maggie Hogan, qualified to compete in next month's World Cup in Germany by dominating the K2 200-meter finals in the U.S. National Team Trials on the Oklahoma River.
McElroy also finished second Saturday in the K1 200-meter kayak race to Carrie Johnson, who qualified Friday for her third Olympic Games.
McElroy is having her best year on the water. She and Hogan won bronze in the K2 500-meter race at the Pan American games last year.
She and partner Jen Burke finished third in the K2 1,000 meters in the 2011 World Cup and ninth in the 2011 World Championships.
McElroy said she has improved tremendously since arriving in Oklahoma City to train in the Boathouse District under the watchful eye of Shaun Caven, former British National coach and director of canoe/kayak at the OKC High Performance Center.
McElroy was an NCAA cross-country skier at Bates College in Maine when a back injury five years ago ended her skiing career. She had missed practice because one of her classes ran late, so she went out in the dark to train by roller skiing, a cross-country training exercise where miniature skis are mounted on wheels.
McElroy was roller skiing down a hill when she hit a pothole, fracturing her back and breaking her back and ribs. The back injury still pains her today.
“My back got cranked a little bit further than it had been,” she said. “After that, it was just really difficult for me to ski. That ended my career.”
Still wanting to compete athletically, McElroy had raced marathon canoes as a teen, so she joined a kayaking club and later made a national team. At a training camp, she met Caven, who told her about the Boathouse District in Oklahoma City.
However, McElroy decided to go back home to Maine. But, one day when it started snowing while she was paddling and the rudder on her boat began to freeze, she started thinking about Oklahoma.