USA Canoe and Kayak (USACK), the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic paddlesports governing body, recently announced that it is merging with the venerable American Canoe Association, naming existing ACA executive director Wade Blackwood the new Chief Executive Officer of USACK in addition to his ACA role.
The new strategy involves partnering with the American Canoe Association (ACA), which was formed in 1880 and is currently the oldest and largest paddlesports organization in the United States.
The ACA was the Olympic paddlesports governing body from 1924 until the early 1990s, when the organization split. ACA committed to focus on recreational paddling, developing educational programs, stewardship, exploration, recreation and competition. USACK was formed to focus on elite competition such as the Olympics, Pan AM Games, and Paralympics. Currently, it is preparing for 22 men and women’s Canoe and Kayaking medal events at the 2016 Olympic (16 medals) and Paralympic (6 medals) games to be held in Rio De Janeiro.
“Over the last four years the ACA has grown significantly by focusing on education and stewardship programs under Blackwood’s leadership,” says ACA Board Chair Anne Maleady. “The shared CEO role has the opportunity to give the millions of Americans who engage in recreational and elite paddlesports the ability to find programs of interest under a common organization. Whether its stewardship activities or healthy competition; our organizations will offer something for paddlers of all abilities.”
USA Canoe/Kayak’s administrative offices will join those of the ACA at 503 Sophia St. Suite 100, Fredericksburg, VA 22401 (540-907-4460); while its High Performance Training Office will remain in Oklahoma City at 725 South Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73129 (405-552-4040).
The move came about after officials from both entities realized that when the ACA was splintered and USACK became a separate organization, the U.S. stopped winning Olympic medals. In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Scott Strausbaugh, Joe Jacobi (former USACK CEO), and Greg Barton were the last three American men to medal (gold, gold, and bronze respectively) while Rebecca Giddens was the last American woman to medal (silver) in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
“There is an old saying that if you continue doing the same thing over and over again, do not expect different results,” says Robert Lally, USACK Board Chair. “When the ACA and USA Canoe/Kayak Team separated a lot of our canoe/kayak disciplines stopped competing at the highest international levels. In order to change our results and outcomes, we have to dynamically and strategically change the culture and direction of our nation’s paddling enterprise. Creating a partnership, once again, between the ACA and USACK is that dynamic and strategic change required for USA to compete at the highest levels in all canoe/kayak disciplines.”
As well as shaving expenses, sharing CEOs demonstrates unity in a relatively unique market. “I feel like I’m the first grandchild of two great and influential families — and there are high expectations,” says Blackwood. “We want to create a fun and enjoyable path for anyone with an interest in paddling. Having the recreational and elite competition disciplines under a single leadership creates opportunities to build a pipeline of generations of great paddlers.”
“Paddling is a healthy outdoor activity and many of the great elite paddlers started by enjoying a family canoe trip or having a great summer camp experience learning to kayak,” he adds.
Oklahoma City is in the process of building a $42.5 million whitewater paddling course and will host the 2016 Olympic Team Trials for both slalom and sprint. Under this leadership model the future of Olympic paddlesports looks bright. “Re-uniting the family of paddlers is a good thing. It’s about time!” says 1952 Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Havens, who’s now age 90.