By Sam Laskaris
James Lavallée has managed to find himself a water sport he enjoys and one that he also excels in.
“I really like water, but I was not a fan of swimming,” said Lavallée, a Métis athlete from Winnipeg who took up the sport of kayaking at the age of 11.
Lavallée, who turns 20 on Friday, is now a member of the Canadian senior men’s kayaking squad. And earlier this week it was announced that he would be receiving some national recognition.
The Aboriginal Sport Circle, the governing body for Aboriginal sports in Canada, has chosen Lavallée as its male athlete of the year for 2017.
Joy Spear Chief-Morris, a Blackfoot hurdler from Alberta’s Blood Tribe, was selected as the Aboriginal female athlete of the year. See our story here: http://www.windspeaker.com/news/windspeaker-news/tom-longboat-award-goes-to-blackfoot-hurdles-specialist/
Both Lavallée and Spear Chief-Morris will be presented with the prestigious Tom Longboat Award. They will receive their accolades on Nov. 9 in Toronto at an event held in conjunction with Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“It’s very exciting,” Lavallée said. “I’ve never received a national award before. So that’s pretty cool.”
While looking for a water-related activity to participate in, Lavallée discovered he could start paddling at a drop-in facility in Winnipeg. In the beginning, he’d try out his kayaking skills about once a week.
Shortly thereafter he joined the Manitoba Canoe and Kayak Centre, a club he still belongs to.
Once he realized he was proficient at the sport, Lavallée bumped up the number of training sessions. And he eventually made the national junior (18 and under) team and was able to compete in a pair of world championships.
He placed 23rd at his K1 200-metre race at the 2014 global regatta in Szeged, Hungary. And the following year he was 15th in his K1 200-metre event, held in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal.
As for this year, Lavallée did not take part in any international competitions after cracking the national senior team roster. But his 2017 highlight was capturing three medals at the Canada Summer Games, which were held in his hometown of Winnipeg. The Games began in late July and continued until mid-August.
Lavallée, who was representing Team Manitoba, won a silver medal in his K1 200-metre race. And he also managed to win bronze medals in his K1 500-metre and K4 200-metre events.
He aspires to compete at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and is currently taking classes at the University of Manitoba. This is his second semester of post-secondary schooling. He’s hoping to major in ecology with a minor in environmental science.
“School is a priority, but it takes a backseat when it comes to training,” he said. Lavallée is taking three courses and two labs this semester. And though it is October, he continues to train about 20 hours per week on the water now.
He’ll be attending classes until the current semester ends in December. “I’m going to start taking some online courses in the second semester,” he said.
But he’ll also have another focus.
“I’m just trying to figure out where I’ll go for my winter/spring training,” he said. He had spent the past winter and portion of the spring training in a pair of European countries, Italy and Poland.
“This year I’m planning to stay in North America,” he said. Lavallée expects he’ll head to the state of Florida for his training sessions.
“But I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go for that,” he said.
Since he is hoping to qualify for the Olympics in three years, Lavallée said he will not be able to attend university classes in both semesters for some time.
“For sure I’ll be paddling until then,” he said.
Lavallée said he could also stick around in the sport long enough and try to become an Olympian in 2024 as well. So it might take him some time to complete his university studies.
“It could be six years or 10 years depending on how long I paddle,” he said.
Lavallée is also exploring the possibility of starting up an Indigenous paddling group at the University of Manitoba.
“We have a meeting scheduled at the school next week,” he said. “There’s been some interest in it so we’ll see how it goes.”
Lavallée admits he didn’t know too much about Longboat, the legendary Six Nations runner whose accolades include winning the 1907 Boston Marathon. But he started doing some Longboat research once he found out he had been nominated for a national award named in honour of the runner.
“It’s very interesting reading about some of his accomplishments,” Lavallee said.
Want to know more about Tom Longboat? See our Footprints page here http://www.windspeaker.com/news/footprints/tom-longboat-athlete-whose-travels-were-far-and-fast/