Choosing his own path through the water

By Andrea Prazmowski – 

Max Finkelstein and son Isaac were in a Westboro store recently when a stranger approached and exclaimed: “You’re the famous paddler!” For the first time ever – but likely not the last – Max looked at his son and wondered which of them the man was referring to.

Isaac, 17, brought home a silver and two bronze medals from the international Olympic Hopes Sprint Canoe-Kayak regatta in Hungary in September. He is the Junior Men’s champion in the 1000-metre sprint-canoe event. Max is well known in Canadian canoeing circles for his epic paddling – including re-tracing the route of explorer Alexander Mackenzie and detailing it in his book, Canoeing a Continent. So the Finkelstein family boasts one famous paddler and a second well on his way to earning that title. But Isaac is choosing his own path through the water.

Westboro’s Isaac Finkelstein has been racking up medals, both in Canada and internationally. Photo by Max Finkelstein
Westboro’s Isaac Finkelstein has been racking up medals in Canada and abroad. Photo by Max Finkelstein

Max and wife Connie Downes took Isaac for his first ride in a canoe when he was three days old. He was paddling his own kayak at the age of three and navigating rapids like a pro a few years later. Still, as Max says, “we never envisioned this was where paddling would take him.”

“This” is the performance in Hungary in the Men’s Under-17 category, silver in the C-1 (solo) 1500 metres and bronze in the C-2 (two-man crew) 500 and 1000 metres; gold in the C-1 1000 metres at the Canadian Canoe-Kayak Sprint Championships this summer, along with a silver and bronze; representing Canada at the World Junior Championships in July; nine training sessions every week at Rideau Canoe Club, including 6 a.m. practices four times a week before his Grade 12 classes at Nepean High School.

Isaac’s enthusiasm for sprint paddling began on a family bike ride when he was eight. Cycling past the Rideau Canoe Club, they stopped to watch a training session on Mooney’s Bay. When Isaac saw the paddlers speeding along the water on sleek, lightweight canoes, he was enthralled. A summer camp at the club that year led to enrollment in the competitive training program, and he was hooked. He is now one of the club’s top young competitors.

“It’s the best sport in the world,” says Isaac. “You get to be outside, and it combines so many different things” – physical strength, stamina, mental toughness, excellent coordination and overall athleticism. “And then you get to do this awesome thing on the water. It’s very satisfying when you’re working really hard to get a good stroke and the boat’s really moving well.”

The club, says Isaac, has been an incredible place to grow up.

“It’s a really special place, with so many passionate people and so much support,” says Isaac. “My coaches are amazing and none of my success would be possible without them.”

With the demands required of a high-performance athlete, Max notes that Isaac is now “too busy canoeing to go canoeing,” so family paddling trips are a rarity. Still, while father and son agree that canoe-tripping and sprint canoe racing are only remotely related, “it is the love of being on the water” that they share, says Max. Whether out on a remote lake in a canoe laden down with camping gear or on Mooney’s Bay in a sprint canoe that skims the water, “You’re just where you want to be.”

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