Three Mercer Island residents recently traveled to Oklahoma City for the kayak and canoe Sprint National championships.
Michael Weyna, Natasha Dietz and Bee Dietz all competed and earned medals at the event. Weyna competes for the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club, while Natasha and her grandmother, Bee, paddle for Cascade Canoe and Kayak Center in Renton.
Natasha, 16, has been paddling with the club for several years, and as someone who would drive her to practice in Renton, Bee decided to give it a try. The 76-year-old has rheumatoid arthritis and has always been active in a variety of sports, but it was her first time paddling.
She started attending practices and joined the team last year, going up to four times a week learning how to row and handle the boats.
“My first race was a local race,” she said. “I was perfectly happy just to finish.” She said she’s philosophical about competing, and learning the technique has been difficult, but the activity has made a big difference in her arthritis, helping her feel better.
The national competition is a four-day event, with the last day reserved for masters competitions, which Dietz races in. Anyone over 30 falls into the masters level. Teams from around the country gathered for the event, but a big storm on the night of the first day wrecked the course, forcing races to be reset at only 200 meters, instead of the traditional 1,000 or 500-meter lengths.
Dietz competed in eight events, the max at the competition. She earned six medals, including a gold in the K2 mixed race.
“It’s really delightful,” she said. “After my first race, it was my dream to go to nationals with my granddaughter. I would have been thrilled with just one medal, let alone six.”
Natasha Dietz left the competition with three medals, all bronze.
Dietz said she plans on continuing to paddle, working on her goal of getting into small, faster boats as she learn the techniques better. There will be a few more competitions this fall for the team, her last of the year before it gets too cold for her to compete.
The Cascade team is coached by Dan Henderson, a former US National Team member and national team coach.
To learn more about the Cascade team, visit www.canoe-kayak.com.