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.

Pho­to cour­tesy of Casey Eichfeld

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.

 

Pho­to Cour­tesy of CaseyEichfeld.us

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.