Canoeing and kayaking is not a particularly popular sport in Centre County, but two Bellefonte teens are in Europe representing the United States in the water sports.
Siblings Ethan Van Horn, 19, and Evelyn Van Horn, 16, were each invited this year to participate in the junior and under-23 World Canoe Slalom Championships held in Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia, on July 16-21.
On Monday, the duo flew overseas for training, where they will participate in a number of different events in several countries to prepare them for the championships.
The two could not be reached for comment, but their mother, Michelle Van Horn, and their coach, David Kurtz, spoke on their behalf.
“It’s really exciting because this is not a run-of-the-mill sport. This isn’t like gymnastics or football or soccer,” their mom said. “I think it takes a lot of perseverance and guts.”
Ethan Van Horn earned the invitation to the U-23 World Championships in men’s kayaking based on race results at the 2013 U.S. Slalom Team Trials held in Deep Creek, Md., in May.
According to Kurtz, Van Horn placed fourth, and that did not originally qualify him for the team, but after another member dropped out, Van Horn got the opportunity to take his place.
“Ethan received the call to represent the United State in the U-23 when second-place finisher Simon Ranagan declined last week,” Kurtz said. “I have all the confidence he will represent himself and the team well.”
Evy Van Horn, a member of the USACK Junior National Team in women’s kayaking, earned a spot on the team with a second-place finish at the 2013 U.S. Junior Team Trials earlier this month in Dickerson, Md. She also qualified to represent the U.S. in women’s kayaking at the 2013 Senior World Championship in Prague, Czech Republic, in September.
The brother-sister duo began paddling at Sunnyside Paddling Park with the Mach 1 Slalom Team in Bellefonte.
Michelle Van Horn said kayaking started out as a family fun day in October 2008 that turned into a competitive sport for her children.
“We all started as a family,” she said. “My husband heard of it and we thought we’d give it a shot. We figured we’d do it for the fun of it, then the kids started doing some races and really got hooked.”
She said although Ethan and Evy are part of a larger kayak team, they push themselves individually to be the best they can be.
“I think they want to represent their team the best they can, but they first need to depend on themselves to get the best results possible to do that,” Michelle Van Horn said.
And although in separate competitions, Michelle Van Horn said the duo feeds off each other.
“Evy paddles better when Ethan is there to encourage her,” Michelle Van Horn said. “It definitely builds character and trust.”
Michelle Van Horn said Ethan and Evy were home-schooled, which gave them the flexibility to compete more often.
“They gave up a lot,” Michelle Van Horn said. “There are so many days you need to train, and there was times they were traveling around the country to compete — in Washington (D.C.) and Charlotte (N.C.). But I’m glad they found something they have a passion in.”
Michelle Van Horn added that Evy plans to graduate a year early so she can pursue the sport full time. But it took a lot of work to get where the two are now.
Kurtz, coach and president of the Mach 1 Slalom Team, said the duo would compete in about 15 competitions annually.
“They’re some of the hardest workers I know,” Kurtz said. “I’d see Evy come for a workout or training and do the same thing 25 times until she perfected it where others might do it once or twice. That’s just the kind of kid she is.”
Kurtz has been working with Ethan and Evy since they got involved in the sport.
“I started them off from day one, and it’s nice to see them progress,” said Kurtz, who also will be accompanying the two in Europe. He leaves early next month.
“This is the kind of event that will make or break them, and I’m so anxious to see what happens,” Michelle Van Horn added. “The world championships will be streamed live, so we’ll certainly be watching and cheering them on. As a mother, I couldn’t be more proud.”
The Mach 1 Slalom Team is based out of Sunnyside Paddling Park’s year-round training course. The team offers basic and intermediate paddling courses for all ages with an emphasis on whitewater safety, river cruising and competition.
For more information, visit www.mach1team.org.