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Paddler remembered for her zest for life

posted Feb 27, 2012, 8:33 AM by Hector Carranco   [ updated Feb 28, 2012, 9:54 AM ]
Lucy Slade

Born: May 16, 1972

Died: Jan. 14, 2011 in Whistler, B.C., of cancer

Some people go through life and everything around them shimmers. Lucy Slade had that. Her presence, her very name, emanated light.

In her youth, Lucy spent many summers on the water at the Rideau Canoe Club in Ottawa, mastering the challenging sprint racing canoes and kayaks. Winning four gold, three silver, and eight bronze medals at Canadian Championships between 1987 and 1996, and being a quadruple gold medallist at the 1989 Canada Summer Games in Saskatoon, Lucy became a star in the paddling community, wearing the purple RCC jersey for 10 years.

She caught the international spotlight at the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba. As Cubans welcomed the world to the games, even converting irrigation reservoirs for emergency food production into kayak race courses, she stood again on the podium, about to be recognized for a commendable finish - not perfect, but enviable, honestly fought, and powerful. The Canadian Press described the four-woman kayak event as, "the most thrilling race of the weekend with the Canadians coming within a whisker of winning."

Fidel Castro himself slipped the silver medal over her head. It was only natural to lean over and kiss his bearded cheek in return. Her spontaneous gesture was captured by a news photographer and published widely.

Lucy's best friend and fellow paddler, Kenna Robins, remembers Lucy as a fierce competitor, yet someone who shared words of encouragement. In the early 1990s, the young women saved up money to rent a place while continuing to train and go to school. Their third-floor apartment faced the Rideau Canoe Club parking lot. "Many times in the winter, when it was -20 C and we had a run scheduled I would have gone back to bed but good ol' Luce never missed a practice."

Lucy retired from racing in 1996 and shifted her focus to biking, skiing and running. She joined the Cascades Canoe Club as a coach and helped to develop their youth paddling program. She moved to Chelsea, Que., in the late 1990s and inspired at least one other paddler to do so. Jumping onto the top of the van they'd travelled in to scout a prospective property, she spied the Gatineau River and advised her friend to buy the property. She did.

The 2000s were busy years for Lucy and her partner, Andy Ball, as Lucy completed her university degree, Andy grew his video tracking business, and they were blessed with two sons, Quinn and Adrian. Lucy taught for a year at Chelsea Elementary School.

Lucy and Andy kept their two boys active in the outdoors. In pursuit of better skiing and hiking conditions they moved west in August 2010. Andy bragged about Lucy's skill mountain biking on the steep terrain of Whistler, B.C.

It was a short-lived dream. Lucy died in Vancouver of a swift-moving cancer only six weeks after it was diagnosed that December.

Two days before she died, Ian Mortimer, National Sprint Canoe-Kayak Team member, visited Lucy in Whistler. She had been Ian's first serious paddling coach. " The mental toughness and calm she had cultivated through sport shone through. It was so inspiring."

Carol Kavanagh and Mike Scott

Friends from Rideau Canoe Club

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