The Olympic-style events involve competition in nearly 30 sports throughout the year. Last weekend, athletes from youth to seniors took part in the races at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.
The local SFCKC team won 31 gold medals, 10 silvers and 6 bronze awards. For some of the youth, this marked their first official race. For others, it was one step closer to their Olympic dreams.
The races ranged from 1,000 meters to 250 meters using of wide variety of canoes, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks (single and double). Jasmin Gomes, 11, won three gold and one silver medal.
“I really like racing in the two-person kayak because it’s easier to glide through the water. We have to work together to stay on the same stroke and that’s fun,” said Gomes.
“It’s all about endurance and balance,” added Noah Mack, 11, who walked away with two golds and one silver. “This is my first race at the Sunshine State Games and my time was good -1 minute, 27 seconds (in men’s 200 meters).”
Perhaps the most inspiring competitor was 76-year-old Rafael Paz, who escaped Cuba by kayak in 1964. Paz competed in the 1,000 and 200-meter sprint races, taking silver in the 1,000 and gold in the 200.
“Today felt fantastic,” said Paz. “Kayaking is good for the kids, it’s good for personal growth. You get into a kayak and you won’t want to do any other thing.”
SFCKC executive director Melinda Mack was pleased to see the races run smoothly, despite a brief threat of rain. Her goal is to grow the canoe/kayak races and the sport across the state.
Next up for five of the SFCKC athletes is the USA Canoe/Kayak Spring National Championships in San Diego in July.