Narberth and Whitland Rotary had the pleasure at a recent meeting of hosting guest speaker, GB and Welsh canoe slalom athlete Gabrielle Ridge.
This remarkable young woman, hailing from Narberth is a final year Sports Therapy student at Trinity St David’s and in 2017, her debut year, represented Team GB on no less than 4 occasions across Europe. She rather modestly related to attending Rotarians and guests her paddling journey from introduction in 2009, accompanying her elder sister Alexandra to beginner sessions at Llandysul - where Gabrielle was persuaded to ‘have a go,’ leading to her silver medal success at this year’s World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Gabrielle’s love of her beloved sport was evident throughout, her bubbly personality underplaying the commitment that she has to the physical and emotional demands of this thrilling time trial event. The sport which involves paddling a kayak (or canoe) down a white water rapid course, against the clock, whilst negotiating a series of downstream and upstream gates dictates a high level of physical fitness, a steely resolve, along with a unique White-Water skill set. Gabi even brought along her carbon fibre kayak and paddles for us to view, along with an array of awards, including her 2015 Sport Pembrokeshire Award for Female Achievement in recognition of her winning the position of securing the Ladies British Junior Title.
The sport has three categories, under 18yrs, under 23yrs and senior, with a selection event being held at the start of each competition year. As such, Gabi told us of her current training regime which at the start of her winter training plan involves 2-3 training sessions a day alongside her university commitments, ranging from paddling technique, speed work, running, climbing, yoga and weight training, which evolved and builds towards the April GB selection date. Travelling from her Narberth home to Llandysul at least twice weekly, to train with her ‘rock,’ coach Geoff Forster who has been pivotal in guiding Gabrielle through the past 5 years with Canoe Wales. Geoff was also her GB coach when she attended her first World Championships for the GB under 23 team when she won silver with team mates Mallory Franklin and Kimberley Woods.
A popular sport in Europe, the championship event attracted over 450 participants from 50 nations. Whilst visibly moved by her medal success, Gabi spoke highly of her paddling friends and community who have supported her journey and concluded by showing a video of her competition run from the Senior World Cup penultimate race in Ivrea, Northern Italy in September which was her debut race for the senior team and which saw her place 24th in the world and top British lady in the kayak category. The Ivrea event also saw Gabrielle chosen to carry lead the GB team procession carrying the Union Jack through the streets of the host town and into the opening ceremony.
It is Gabrielle’s intention to relocate to London after completion of her degree in order to train at the London Olympic venue, now GB Canoeing’s centre of Excellence. She is no stranger to the site having only just returned from a 5-day training camp on site. She relishes the opportunity to paddle on the course whenever possible as it is after all where all of the under 23 and senior GB selection races will be held and with her sights firmly set on further GB adventures and with Tokyo2020 not so many years away, Gabi certainly takes the view there is no opportunity to be missed.
It’s been quite a year for this aspiring athlete, and we wish her every success in pursuit of her sporting dreams
Following the presentation the Rotary Club of Narberth & Whitland are delighted to announce that we are donating £500 to Gabby to purchase a new Custom made competition Kayak, which is currently being manufactured.
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