For Carlos Garcia of Oklahoma City, the 2012 National Team Trials will be his last one before he is eligible to compete for the United States.
Garcia was a national champion kayaker in Cuba. He defected from Cuba during the 2010 Pan American games in Mexico City, leaving his teammates behind and escaping to the United States.
He came to Oklahoma City because Shaun Caven was coaching here.
On Saturday, Garcia and his boat partner, the Israeli-born Rami Zur of Newport, Calif., captured first place in both the finals of the men's K2 200 meters and 1,000 meters.
Zur, 35, has represented both Israel (2000) and the United States (2004, 2008) in the Olympics.
“The first time I met (Garcia) was here (this weekend),” Zur said. “He Facebooked me, asked me if I wanted to paddle K2. I said, ‘Sure, why not.' I'm flying all the way from California. I train five months, regardless of the Olympics or not. I'm a competitor. I like to race. I enjoy it, and if I have an opportunity to jump in a boat, sure, why not?”
WOUNDED WARRIORS COMPETE ON THE OKLAHOMA RIVER
Canoe/kayak will be a Paralympic sport for the first time in 2016.
On Saturday, Paracanoe athletes were vying for spots on the national adaptive team to compete in the World Paracanoe Championships at Paznan, Poland, on May 16-17.
Several of the competitors were former soldiers wounded in combat, such as 21-year-old Stephen Peterson of Florida.
Peterson was a combat engineer who lost his leg last year in an explosion in Afghanistan. He is now being rehabilitated at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and canoe/kayak is part of the program.
“It's calming to me just getting out there on the water,” he said. “It helps mentally and physically.”
His coach, Ben Kvanli, brought six wounded warriors going through rehabilitation at Fort Sam Houston to Oklahoma City for this weekend's races.
“We want to make sure these guys live their lives to the fullest, no matter what,” he said. “In the canoes and the kayaks, they get to feel normal again. That's a really powerful thing.”
OLYMPIC MEDALIST STUNNED BY BOATHOUSE DISTRICT
America's greatest female kayaker, Oklahoma native Marcia Jones-Smoke, was back in her hometown of Oklahoma City this weekend and watched the U.S. Olympic Trials on the Oklahoma River.
Smoke, who graduated from Casady High School, was on three U.S. Olympic teams and won a bronze medal in the 1964 Olympics.
She and her sister, Sperry, were multi-time national champions in the sport. Marcia won 11 straight national titles.
“I would have never believed in a million years there would be kayaking in Oklahoma City,” Smoke said. “That is just amazing to me.”
Growing up, Smoke wanted to be an Olympic swimmer and competed in the Olympic Trials but didn't make the team. Her mother, Mary Francis Jones, then took her girls to the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, where they discovered kayaking.
The United States didn't have a strong team, and Smoke knew that could be her ticket to the Olympics. She is only one of two American women to ever win a medal in kayaking in the Olympics.
After high school, Smoke went to the University of Michigan to swim and play water polo for the Ann Arbor Swim Club. She and her sister found a coach in Michigan and started kayaking.
Smoke, now 70, lives in Buchanan, Mich., where her Olympic bronze medal sits in a display case on her fireplace hearth.
“The Olympics were the pinnacle for me,” she said.
Smoke still paddles today. Her son, Jeff, competed in paddling in the 2004 Olympics.