Paddling since he was able to hold a paddle, at 21-years-old Casey Eichfeld is currently the top C‑1 paddler in the Unites States. Slowing down is not something that comes naturally to Casey, so we were honored when he took a few moments for us, as he prepares to compete in L’Argentiere, France this weekend, to answer some questions about his career and what its like to be an Olympian.
The Clymb: What’s your earliest paddling memory?
Casey Eichfeld: My earliest paddling memory is of an island that my Dad and I used to visit when I was two years old and we were living in Richmond, Virginia. The island was on the James River and created a little stream between it and the main shore. My Dad would bring thin PVC poles with us and he would stick them into the sand. They were the first slalom gates that I ever got to do. I think it was around that time that parents realized the little river monster they had created.
TC: What would people be surprised to learn about what it’s like to participate in The Olympics (Beijing Olympic Games)?
CE: Being an Olympian is probably the most incredible thing that I have gotten to do so far in my athletic career. It was an adventure beyond any I had come across to that point. Something that I found interesting and didn’t really expect was the organization of the Olympic Village. To be completely honest, the Village was almost like being at school with a bunch of exchange students. We had gatherings where we could get together and meet one another from athletes in other sports from our country as well as all the others. And the cafateria, it was just like school again with everyone going up in lines together and sitting with one another. Slowly you could see the athletes leave their comfort zones and start hanging out with other people they had met in the Village. It was really cool to get to see how everyone coincided with one another as oppose to just staying with the team members they knew.
TC: What life lessons have you learned from paddling?
CE: Paddling has been an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has been a key piece to learning patience that comes with anything that you do in life. Training has its moments when it feels really good and other times when it is the most frustrating thing you can remember having done. In the end, my boat is where I can escape to. I live on a flatwater stretch of the Catawba River in Charlotte, North Carolina and it is nice to know that I can escape to the calm water whenever I need to mull things over.
TC: If you couldn’t do this, what would you be doing?
CE: As a person I am naturally competitive and athletic so I would probably be doing a sport of some kind. Perhaps I would have taken the more traditional route of four years of college following high school and then moving on to a career. Paddling has been my career though since I decided that I wanted that Olympic gold when I was still very young. It is hard for me to picture myself not paddling and racing competitively.
TC: You said that you studied dance to help with balance and flexibility. What kind of dance? Whatever activities help with paddling?
CE: Dance was a pretty big part of my life for a number of years. School, paddling, and dance took up the majority of my time. It wasn’t until I started traveling to Europe at 14 that I decided it was time to prioritize. Dance for me included Ballet, Modern, Character, and a variety of Hip Hop/Jazz. My dance school came to know me well and didn’t seem to mind having a boy among the ranks. All sorts of cross training are still found in my training schedules. We run and weight lift a few times a week. Certain activities like mountain biking are great for stamina but we have to be careful of injuries. Most of the racers also really enjoy recreational river running. It helps to keep our river skills sharp so that we can handle whatever the rivers have in store for us.
TC: Do you ever get nervous before competing?
CE: Do I get nervous? I am definitely one of the racers that gets nervous. I have a heck of a time trying to eat breakfast the morning of a race. Having said that, I wouldn’t be the racer that I am if I didn’t get nervous. The nerves help me to get amped up and excited for a race. As soon as the starting countdown finishes instinct kicks in. I can always tell a good run for me by the way I notice everything that is going on around me and not just in front of me.
TC: What advice would you offer a young person interested in paddling competitively?
CE: Whitewater slalom or any other paddling discipline is just like any other sport. A lot of kids play sports when they are growing up. Paddling is definitely out of the ordinary but it is a fun sport and there are always new people learning how to paddle. I can’t count the number of races that I did growing up but I know that every one of them was a blast! I love this sport and have since the very beginning. I think that is what has allowed me to get this far. I wanted it and I trained for it and I continue to everyday. Nothing worth having comes easily.
Casey started paddling in whitewater at age two and slalom racing at age five. At the age of eight, Casey was the youngest National Slalom Cadet Team member and the youngest solo competitor at a U.S. Whitewater Slalom Nationals. At age 14, he was competing in Europe as a National Junior Team member. In June 2000, Casey was recognized as one of the “Paddlers of the Next Century” by Paddler magazine. And, in the Sports Illustrated for Kids October 2000 Olympic issue, Casey was listed as a future “Olympic Hotshot.”
For information on how you can help Casey on his path to the 2012 London Games, email Casey directly at: caseyeichfeld (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, “like” Casey’s Facebook page to stay updated on his competitions and journey to London.