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Kamini Jain

Kamini Jain, 50

Sports: Member of Canada’s sprint kayak Olympic Team (Sidney, 2000; Athens, 2004, ) outrigger, dragon boat, world champion dragon boat and outrigger canoe coach and paddler, winning 11 World Cup medals, 14 IDBF World Championship medals, and many more as a dragon boat coach at the local, national and world levels.

Years of paddling: 35

“When I get in my boat, it feels like I’ve come home. It feels like where I’ve always been most comfortable. It was where I found my sense of self. It’s my comfort place.”

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In this wide-ranging conversation about paddling, boats and people, Kamini spoke about Jackie Webber, a beloved and influential Vancouver-based paddling coach and mentor who unfortunately passed away earlier this year.

We started by asking why she prefers training in a K1. 

A: My favourite training canoe is my kayak. It’s the most
challenging and it lets me return to all of the skills that I spent
20 years trying to hone. So, there are always things to remember, there are always things to work on. And there’s a lot of payback, because it’s just a much faster and more dynamic kind of experience. than boats with amas. It’s also a single boat, so it’s different than having teammates. I like the individuality of it.

Surf skis don’t have the same responsiveness. So it just feels like I’ve chosen a heavier, less comfortable boat that day.

If somebody goes from outrigger or dragon boat into a surf ski, it definitely really has some nice dynamic symmetricality to it and it provides really good opportunities for developing some different visions or outlooks on paddling.

Q: What inspires you most about paddling?

A: inspires is maybe not the word for it. It’s what I am. It’s what I do. It’s the thing that I’ve done for 35 years.  As the years progress, my motivation waxes and wanes more than it used to. 

But when I get in my boat, it feels like I’ve come home. It feels like where I’ve always been most comfortable. It was where I found my sense of self. It’s my comfort place.

Q: What drew you to the sport in the first place?

A: I wanted to be an Olympian ever since I was 11 years old. I saw Chariots of Fire, and I thought “OH!” My mom was so into it, and my neighbor was almost an Olympian. He was next in line in high jump in the 1968 or maybe 64 Olympics.

I was really athletic, and then I found kayaking. I watched the ‘84 Olympics and saw Hugh Fisher and Alwyn Morris winning medals. 

And I lived in Calgary in one of the houses closest to the canoe club. So it really was a very organic thing to watch the Olympics, meet some people who did this sport, wander down, get in a boat and it just went from there.

Q: How has paddling and the paddling community has affected your life?

A: It gave me a community. I was and still am really introverted, which surprises a lot 

of people probably, I coach for a living, and I am able to go to other places and coach in other countries and other cities where I can just walk into these communities. And a lot of us who don’t coach and are on holiday somewhere can say, ‘Oh, I’d like to go paddling,’ and people welcome you with open arms.

All of a sudden you have this community in Australia, or Hawaii, or wherever you may be.

So it gives me a community where I might otherwise feel quite isolated, and even more so during this pandemic.

Q: How active were you before COVID-19 hit?

A: It was full-on into the start of the season. It was March so I was training a lot, which I was able to keep doing through COVID because I have my own boats, but as for coaching and work, everything was just coming to be. 

I actually had my car packed and everything set to drive down to the States to do my camps down there. I had to cancel them. It disappointed my customers, it was disappointing to myself, and it was a financial concern.

But you know, you sort of get through it. You can just stay in that sense of feeling of crisis forever, or you can just sort of say, ‘well, this is a new reality,’ right?

Q: How did you initially cope with the crisis and what are you doing now?

A: A really good thing that happened was I started doing an online seminar series.

I did one in May with five different presenters that was wildly popular. 

I had been wanting to do online courses for a long time because of my international travel.

For example, I’d go to Australia but following up with people by doing things online was a challenge because people weren’t online savvy. 

But now people talk to their grandkids on Zoom and those sort of things. COVID opened the door for there to be a lot more people who are super comfortable with the technology.

So I’m doing two seminar series now, I have an upcoming workshop on dryland training, and I have some Dragon Boat Canada courses.

It’s been nice to still be able to reach out to the community because I’ve had really neat people who’ve attended from Australia, Qatar and Hong Kong and all over. We’re in a broader community, which is good for the soul.

Q: When it comes to paddling, is there a person, event or team that has a special memory for you?

A: I have a lot of events and teams and a lot of people who have created a lot of memories for me. But the most vibrant memory, for always, and especially now, is Jackie Webber.

I’ve known Jackie since I was 14 years old. She was the first person who actually

put me in a K1. We’re the same age, we were teammates. So from 14, we spent so much time together.

She was super bubbly. She knew how to work with people, talk to people, engage with people. She taught me a lot about how to be a leader in front of people.

She was so much fun, and she was so influential in every way.

She was a coach when I was still an Olympian and she was honing her skills. When I retired from Olympic paddling, she brought me into her clinics and she taught me how she ran things; how she ran camps and how she ran groups. 

Q: Is there a coach or mentor you’d like to recognize?

A: I had a super technical coach one named Imre Kemescey. (A Hungarian sprint canoeist who competed in two Olympics, winning a Silver medal in Rome in 1960, and medaling in the 1966 Canoe Sprint World Championships.)

He was amazing and informed a lot of how I talk about technique. Anybody who’s been coached by me has had some of that influence. So he’s been amazing.

And then I had another one, Eric Myles, who was really supportive to me when I was a younger athlete in Calgary.

Q: In terms of paddling, what are you looking forward to the most when normalcy returns?

A: I’m looking forward to dragon boat being resumed, obviously, for my employment reasons. But I hadn’t realized quite how much I was missing the energy of the sport until I watched a video from Australia. They’re dragon boat racing with 10 people in a 20-person boat

I watched the races, and it was like ‘oh, yeah. I miss that.’ I don’t miss standing around on a rainy day, but I do miss having everybody rallying around and  the actual racing part of it.

All proceeds from the 2021 calendar project will support FGPC’s race restart programs.