Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sportsister meets Claire O’Hara

With two gold medals in the bag at the ICF World Championships, squirt boat and freestyle kayaker Clair O’Hara is already looking towards next year and the 2012 World Cup.The part-time sixth form college sports coordinator is determined to continue her championship success and believes that her drive and determination will be the key.

Since taking up the sport fifteen years ago, Claire has experienced a great deal of highs including three times Squirt Boating World Champion, five time British Squirt Boating Champion and 2011 Freestyle Kayaking Champion.

Although perhaps two of the less known about ways to ride the water, both squirt boating and freestyle kayaking are exhilarating and exciting sports, if not a little dangerous too. Imagine being in a boat that barely floats whilst using both surface and underwater currents to manouvere and perform tricks – that’s squirt boating. The boat is designed to be as low in volume as possible while still allowing the paddler to float, and that’s just the beginning.

After a long day at the office, Sportsister caught up with the double crowned sports star for a chat.

How are you feeling after becoming double world champion in the kayak freestyle and squirt boating?

It has been an absolutely amazing year so I’m feeling really happy with what my training has done and my performances. Winning the double gold was unbelievable, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. It was an incredible event and I enjoyed being part of it – being able to put all my training into practice to win the double world title was just credit to the amount of work that was done by myself and the team that worked with me so yes, it was amazing

With squirt boating you were defending your title but you hadn’t made it to the finals for the kayak freestyle before, what did you do differently to not only reach the final but win it?

It was the first time I made it through to even the semi-final, as at the last world championships I focused just on the boating. I just refocused my training and spent a lot more time on it than in previous years. I gave up a lot of time working and as a self funded athlete I just realised I needed to be on the water as much as possible if I was to do well at both events so I spent an awful lot of time just getting a real good balance between the two disciplines and making sure my training was really good quality and really effective.

There must be a lot of pressure on you to defend your titles in America in two years time, how are you dealing with that?

I’m just going to take each event one step at a time really and try and keep focused as I go forward. It is difficult going into such a major event with a title. Yours is to defend it and everyone else’s goal is to beat you and take it away but with the help of my coach and the team behind me I’ve been able to do that well going into this year and I’ve learnt a lot that I’ll be able to transfer going back to defend my titles in 2013.

How did you get involved in the sport?

I first went in on an adventure holiday as a kid with my family and I really enjoyed it. We were actually in canoes and my instructor was in a kayak and I really enjoyed the canoeing but I just wanted to be in the kayak. From then I just got in wherever I could and eventually before I knew it, it had taken over my life and it was just 100 per cent my passion and my sport.

With London 2012 coming up I’m sure you’d love to be a part of it. As freestyle kayaking isn’t currently an Olympic discipline what will next year bring for you?

For me I’m going to be heading out to North America to compete on the North American circuit and the World Cup is our major event next year. I will also be competing on the UK and European circuit and we’ve got the European Championships coming up. Everything rolls on a two year basis so for us, the World Championships, European Championships and World Cups are our major events so next year I look forward to being involved in that.

You work part-time as a sports coordinator at your former sixth-form college, but would you like to become a full-time sportswoman?

I work part-time or as little as possible to be able to afford to be able to train as much as possible. My ambition is to be a full time athlete but it’s just being able to find funding to enable that to happen. At the moment I am self funding the majority of my training and competitions so I work as a sports coordinator helping to encourage young people into an array of different sports at the college. When its competition season I’m out on the water so I only work a couple of days a week so I can train as much as possible.

What would you say is the recipe for your success?

The recipe of my success is hard work and determination – I think I’ve had the ambition to get as good as I can possibly be. I’ve always had the ambition to train and get better and then in more recent years I’ve been able to get the support over the years to keep my mind on my performances which has made a huge amount of difference. It’s having the determination and drive to get better.

Do you think this is a sport for everyone, or is it only a certain type of person that will excel?

I think canoeing as a whole is a sport for everyone because there are so many different disciplines within it, so for example you have the recreational weather canoeing where you can go touring and just generally cruising around lakes, all the way into the competitive sports like freestyle and sprint racing. So I think there’s something there for everyone.

Freestyle in itself is a sport that needs highly determined people to do it. But it’s not just the really exciting sport – training for me is spent a lot of time just learning individual moves but once you get it, it feels incredible and gives you that buzz that makes you want to keep going. Freestyle is growing massively as a sport and it’s exciting that a younger generation of kayakers are there because of the nature of the explosive, dynamic, gymnastic style that’s involved in this discipline.

If you weren’t a kayaker, what do you think you would be?

I used to play football for many years and then kayaking took over from the football but I think I’d do some other sort of freestyle sport like snowboarding or mountain biking, they are sports that I really enjoy

What has been your greatest moment since you started kayaking?

There’s been so many at different stages. In the early days it was probably my first white water raft and more recently it’s been competing on the major circuits and being able to put all the big moves that I’ve been training for into practice. Actually putting them out there to perform them well in front of the judges is one of the more recent things I’ve been proud of.

As you are world champion in squirt boating and freestyle what is your favourite discipline to do and why?

I love them both so much, it feels amazing doing mystery moves in the squirt boat and doing the really slow choreographed routines where you have to control the boat throughout. I love doing that but at the same time, going out and surfing a big wave or tackling a big hole, I love doing that so as long as I’m in a kayak I’m having fun.

You have paddled rivers all over the world, what country and river has been your favourite?

That’s a good question. I absolutely love kayaking in Canada on the Ottawa River and the White Nile is really unique as you’re in the middle of Africa and have the huge waves over there. I’ve been to the Himalayas and been kayaking on some rivers where you can’t really get to dry land without trekking for days and days and weeks and weeks but that wilderness and extreme elements adds to it. But there are some incredible rivers in the UK so with so many difficult arrays it’s difficult to choose.

I know you are keen to motivate young people to get into the sport, what advice would you give to encourage them?

Go along to your local canoe club and join in, give it a go and if you try out all the different disciplines and you find one you like just stick with it and enjoy it.

Robyn Rashford, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Claire O’Hara is a Teva sponsored athlete. For more details visit www.teva.co.uk.