Michael Tayler: From the Ottawa River to the London 2012 Olympics

Michael Tayler, the kid who could. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Olympic bound: Michael Tayler honed his skills on Ottawa’s unique downtown white water

By: Kathleen Wilker, May 2012

What happens when your parents put you in a kayak camp at Meech Lake when you’re eight years old? If you are Michael Tayler, who grew up on Melbourne Ave and attended Churchill Alternative and Nepean High School, you develop a passion for kayaking.

First you get your big sister, Kathleen Tayler, to paddle with you and let you tag along to her junior national training camps. Then, a few years, thousands of hours on the water and a few world championships later, you qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

“We got into competition quickly,” explains Michael Tayler, standing beside the slalom white water kayak course just beyond Kitchissippi known as The Pump House mere days after he qualified to represent Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London. “Our parents weren’t experienced paddlers, but they drove us to competitions everywhere.”

Michael Tayler and Kathleen Tayler. Mad paddling skills definitely run in this Kitchissippi family. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

In answer to the question, ‘Who maintains this slalom course?’ both Michael and his sister Kathleen – who paddles with the women’s national U23 team—laugh. “Michael practically lives here in the summer,” explains Kathleen Tayler. “He teaches kids’ kayaking, adult one-on-one and he practices like crazy, so he maintains the gates too. We drive down and drop off dinner.”

In all seriousness, having a slalom course close to home is a rarity. “Most of the time white water like this is at least an hour out of the city,” explains Kathleen Tayler. “Or it’s far enough away that you have to drive up for the day. You just don’t have the option like we did, growing up in Kitchissippi, of popping by and getting out on the water after school.”

In a slalom course, gates are red or green. The green gates mean the kayaker must enter downstream and the red gates are to be entered upstream. Gates hang on wires and can be moved and adjusted to affect the complexity of the course. In competition, you’re able to watch a demo boat run the course, but you don’t get to test it before you compete on it. Competitors are rated on style as well as speed. Michael Tayler earned his spot on the Canadian team with plenty of both.

Michael Tayler dancing on white water in the Ottawa River. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

“There were five guys competing for the Olympic spot,” explains Michael Tayler. “We had to do four runs over two days. Any one of us could have won that spot.”

After chatting onshore, Michael Tayler hops nimbly into his kayak. The churning white water looks like his natural environment and he demonstrates just how an Olympic kayaker twists and turns, in a smooth Kevlar kayak, entering gates sharply and sliding just beside the rocks.

It’s a sight to be seen. And at twenty, this Kitchissippi raised kayaker, heading for the Olympics, is a force to be reckoned with.

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