Fresh off a strong performance at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Regina, Sask., Dawson Nootchtai will rejoin his teammates from the Sudbury Canoe Club, travelling to Ottawa this coming weekend for the Ontario Canoe/Kayak Sprint Racing Affiliation provincials.
Coach Dan Welch has assembled an eight-member squad that also includes Carter Prince, Enara Iturregui, Danielle Labrosse, Justin Burke, Samantha McGrath, Colton Gobbo and Thomas McGrath.
Nootchtai, who claimed three gold medals while representing Ontario at the NAIG in late July, picked up paddling about three years ago.
"My technique has improved a lot in working with Dan (Welch)," he said.
"I've gotten quicker and I have much better cardio in the boat — and I can hold up longer in the boat without tipping."
The highlight of the Games for the Whitefish native was tackling the challenge of the 3,000m K1 race, an event that would see him garner gold in a time of 16:28.94.
"It tired me out and made me think more," said Nootchtai. "I wanted to have a quick 200m start, then keep my pace throughout, and pick it up at the end."
For now, 12-year-old Thomas McGrath will focus on the shorter distances, with paddling becoming simply a family affair.
"My sister (Samantha) tried it first, then I followed," he said. "She's really encouraging, and she's helped me out a lot."
Also in his third year of training at the Sudbury Canoe Club, McGrath was keen on taking the sport to a new level this summer.
"I wanted to get out on the water more often, to work on using longer strokes," he said. "I really wanted to step up my paddling, to go farther and faster, and train for provincials."
In a discipline where success can be driven by equal parts technique, strength and endurance, McGrath took something of a balanced approach.
"You would like to have all three," he stated.
"You want to work each one. I've had more technique this summer, because I'm really lacking on it."
McGrath is expected to compete in both the K1 500m and 1,000m distances in the nation's capital, with a clean start to the race among the keys to improving his times.
"You want one hard pull to get some momentum, and then four sets of five strokes," said McGrath. "Then you're on to race pace."
The Sudbury Canoe Club team will be racing on both Saturday and Sunday. Aug. 9-10, closing out their 2014 summer competitive season.
Some of the young athletes are also expected to be on hand at Lake Ramsey on Aug. 14 for the third annual Water Parade, as paddlers, rowers, dragon boaters, wind-surfers and other water enthusiasts gather to celebrate the progress being made in the construction of the new Northern Water Sports Centre.