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British Canoeist Fiona Pennie talks to WSR

When did you first know that canoeing was going to be your sport, what age?
I dabbled in many different sports from a young age and at 13, I was selected for the Scottish Training Squad and competed at the British Under 14 Championships the following year.  I think I knew that Canoe Slalom was going to be my sport at that point.

It’s an unusual sport to take up, did you ever think it would be a sport you would go onto compete internationally at?
I grew up watching lots of international sport and it seemed natural that I would go on to do some sort of sport internationally; when I was very young, I thought that this would be athletics.  International competition was just something that naturally came along as I became better at Canoe Slalom.

What are the best things about taking up canoeing?
Canoeing incorporates so many different disciplines on so many different kinds of water so you can test yourself as much or as little as you’d like.  Anyone can jump into a very stable boat and enjoy canoeing on the flatwater and then take it further to do recreational whitewater, race on flatwater or whitewater or embark on sea kayaking tours for example.  There’s enjoyment to be had in any kind of canoe or kayak no matter what it is you’re after.

How many hours a week do you spend training/gym etc.
Depending on the time of year, I do, on average, around 12 sessions a week so around 18 hours spent actually on the water or in the gym.  Around this I have video review from sessions, planning meetings, physio, psychology, nutrition meetings and to not forget the general maintenance and repair of my equipment.

What funding do you receive to help with your training?
I’m very lucky to receive funding from the UK Sport Lottery Fund.  This funds British Canoeing to provide my whitewater training sessions, coaching, international training and racing as well as the support services.  It allows me to train full time and focus all of my energy on my canoeing.

Like many women in the UK they have to juggle many things on top of their sport, do you have a job outside your sport, and if so how do you manage to juggle the two?
Fortunately, my results have meant that I have received a funding level that means I can cover my living costs without having to supplement it with extra employment.  Fixed training slots on the whitewater and spending much of my day at the venue would make it extremely difficult to timetable in employment as well!

How old were you when GB called you up to the international team?
My first call up to the British team was an unexpected one!  I competed in the GB Junior selection races in 1997 when I was 14 just for experience and was shocked when I found I had actually been selected to race at the Junior Pre World Championships in Austria that year!  My first Senior World Championships were in 2002 when I was still 19 years old, which seems a very long time ago now!

Explain the feeling when you received your GB Tracksuit for the first time?
I can’t actually remember the moment I received the tracksuit, but I remember the training weekend in Nottingham when I would have received it.  I couldn’t believe I was in a the GB Junior Team with these other great names!

How do you relax outside your sport?
The word “relax” and the name Fiona Pennie aren’t seen together very often!  I like to be productive and am always busy!  I’m often seen in my garage doing boat repairs for other athletes or doing some sort of DIY to my house.  Other than that I like to get out on one of my bikes, take my dog, Scamp, out for adventures or play with my camera.

Like many women’s sports in the UK and around the World funding and help is poor, what would you like to see happen in the years ahead in a general term?
Not many people would take part in their sport if they didn’t love it, so it’s not always about the prize money or sponsorship that is involved.  I would however like to see equal opportunities for women to take part in their chosen sport and be able to train full time at it without the worry of having to find extra income.  With that would come increased participation, better quality and therefore the greater exposure that is sought after.  I’d also like to see all sports open to men and women equally; with no prejudice against anyone wanting to do a sport just because it’s stereotypically a men’s sport or indeed a woman’s sport.

Can you explain what National Go Canoeing Week is about and how people can get involved?
National Go Canoeing Week is an Olympic legacy initiative that encourages the nation to get out on the water and paddling across England. Whether you’re a beginner, or a more experienced paddler, there is something on offer for everyone with more than 500 clubs in England taking part during the week between Saturday 23rd May and Sunday 31stMay. Ahead of Rio 2016, Go Canoeing is also challenging the nation to collectively paddle the distance from London to Rio and all miles logged at www.gocanoeingweek.org.uk<http://www.gocanoeingweek.org.uk/> will contribute to the overall target. People can find out their nearest club taking part by logging onto www.gocanoeingweek.org.uk<http://www.gocanoeingweek.org.uk/>

Finally for any young people thinking of taking up canoeing as a sport what would be your words of advice?
I would encourage any young people to get involved with canoeing at their nearest canoe club or centre.  From there it’s just about getting more experience in the boat and having fun; feeling the thrill of gliding over the water, be that bouncing over whitewater or slicing through the flatwater.

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