Kimberley Woods is a member of the British Canoeing team competing at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She is also a part of the Jaffa family as one of our brand ambassadors.
In this blog post, we will spill the juice with Kimberley. We talk about everything from how she first got into the sport of canoeing to how she has adapted her training to accommodate the 1-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics. Keep reading to learn more about this inspirational British athlete.
How did you first get into canoeing?
My grandparents were canoeists and my aunt was very good at slalom canoeing. In fact, she won a Silver Medal at the ICF Junior World Canoe Slalom Championships in Wisconsin, USA, in 1994 (the year before I was born).
When I was younger, I would watch recordings of my aunt paddling. I also loved to dress up in the old paddling kits she and my grandad used to race in. I would tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a canoeist too. I was always very adamant that not only did I want to compete, but I also wanted to beat my aunt’s achievements! I was VERY competitive as a child (a characteristic that has stuck with me!)
My grandparents always said that as soon as I could swim 50m, they would let me get in a boat. I learned how to swim when I was 8 years old and, as soon as I got my 50m swimming badge, my parents took me to my first training session with Rugby Canoe Club. I immediately fell in love with the feeling of floating on the water and accomplishing new skills such as paddling in a straight line and being able to roll my boat. I soon started racing and from that point on I’ve just never wanted to stop!
What is your favourite thing about being a professional canoeist and what do you find hard about the job?
I am so lucky to have been able to travel the world and met lots of amazing people through the sport. I am very grateful for all of the opportunities the sport has offered me and I wouldn’t change what I do for anything.
The thing I find hardest about the job is being away from home, often for long periods of time. It can be challenging to spend so long away from friends and family. However, the experience has taught me to make the most of the time I do have at home and to try to enjoy every second of it.
What excites you most about travelling to Japan for the 2020 Olympics?
EVERYTHING! Tokyo will be my first Olympics, and I know the whole experience will be insane and like nothing I’ve ever done before!
I have been to an Olympic Games before. I was in Rio in 2016 with Team GB as part of the British Olympic Association’s Ambition Programme. The programme is designed to give young athletes and coaches who aspire to compete at a future Games the opportunity to experience the event first-hand.
As an Ambition athlete, I had the opportunity to visit the Olympic Village, eat in the athletes’ Food Hall and explore the Preparation Camp. To be a part of Rio 2016 as a member of Team GB was incredible. Canoeing is a relatively small sport still, but to know that we are competing as a part of Team GB, with athletes from so many different disciplines, is an amazing feeling.
Since the announcement that Tokyo 2020 would be postponed by 1 year, how have you had to adapt your training to ensure you’ll still be ready to compete?
Although the postponement of Tokyo 2020 was quite a shock at the time, I am now looking at it as an opportunity to put in another year of hard work to continue to improve my physical condition. I was on track to be in the shape of my life for Tokyo 2020. However, as an athlete, you know that you can always be faster and stronger and there are always tweaks I can make to improve my paddling even further. I will use the extra time we have to focus on my flat water training, which will make the biggest difference for me and my performance next year.
Why are you passionate about getting more young women involved in canoeing and other sports?
When I was growing up, I was always getting involved in different sports. I was the girl who, at our annual Sports Day, competed in every single event! I never experienced the embarrassment or nervousness that I know a lot of other young girls and women do when faced with sport and exercise. However, I was always conscious that there were relatively few other girls taking part in as many sports as me. I also know that I would have liked to have seen more female role models in sport as I was growing up.
Things have already changed, and today there are lots of incredible female athletes competing across the whole spectrum of sport. A lot of work has been done to improve female engagement in sport and we are starting to see the results of that, but there is always more work that can and should be done.
I have been lucky to benefit from the many opportunities that playing sport opens up. Sport has helped me grow into the person I am today. It has taught me vital skills such as how to communicate effectively and how to look after my mind and cope with stressful situations well. These skills will be invaluable for me for the rest of my life and I want to help more girls to have the chance to learn them too through involvement in sport from childhood into their adult lives.
What advice would you give to a young person who wants to become a great sportsperson?
- Recognise what you are good at.
- Ask questions.
- Don’t dwell on your mistakes and look for opportunities for growth.
- Don’t rush it.
- Be committed, but also remember to take time out and enjoy being away from your training and with friends and family.