Kayaker takes time off from school to chase Olympic dreams
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Caroline Queen is setting aside her school books for a shot at Olympic glory.
The women's slalom kayaker from Darnestown, Md., is among those competing this week at the Olympic team trials at Charlotte's U.S. Whitewater Center. A 19-year-old student at Davidson, Queen took the semester off to focus on securing the lone spot available for women's K-1 (single kayak) for the American team.
Although Olympic spots won't be determined until after the World Cup this summer in Great Britain, she's currently first in points heading into an important weekend.
Queen, who came up short in her bid to make the Olympic team as a 15-year-old, says it would be a "supreme honor" to represent her country in the Olympics.
"It's the most special sporting event in the world," Queen said. "When you say Olympics, people get excited."
Kind of the way she was as a kid when it came to kayaking.
While the idea of paddling down a rapidly-moving river with nothing but a kayak and a paddle may seem a bit frightening to some, it's not to Queen.
In fact, it's where she feels safest.
That's probably because she's been doing it for so long.
"I've played field hockey and lacrosse and sustained more severe injuries," Queen said.
She stumbled on to the sport almost by accident, paddling on a lake as a little 9-year-old girl at Camp Valley Mill in Germantown, Md. It was there an instructor spotted her and asked her parents if she'd be willing to train with him. Before she knew it, Queen was competing - and winning - events across the country and became the youngest member ever of the U.S. Kayak National team.
After graduating from high school she chose to go to Davidson, partly for their academics but also because it's just a short drive from the U.S. National Whitewater Center where many of the top Olympic whitewater athletes from around the world train. A psychology major with a minor in education, the sohomore has been forced to balance schoolwork with training for the Olympics.
During her first three semesters at Davidson she took all morning classes so she could train in the water in the afternoon.
This semester she's only taking one class while focusing on her Olympic dream.
"It's something I've been planning to do since my sophomore year of high school," Queen said.
Queen and Scott Parsons, a two-time Olympian on the men's side, earned the U.S. Slalom team two Olympic slots by finishing in the top 15 countries at the International Canoe Federation Slalom World Championships in Slovakia last September. However, that doesn't necessarily mean Queen will be the one steering the boat at the upcoming London Games.
To do that she'll have to beat out friend Ashley Nee, who also hails from Darnestown.
The time trials this week and the 2012 ICF Slalom World Cup tour in Cardiff, England June 8-10 will determine that.
"I'm hoping for the best," she said.
Queen's teammates have called her fearless because of the way she attacks the waves.
Others call her smart.
One thing is for sure - she's comfortable on the water.
"I think I'm lucky that I was exposed to a lot of sports at a young age," Queen said. "I grew up with some healthy competition. I was exposed to water early. Sure, it scares some people given the speed of the water. But it's a remarkably safe sport if you know what you're doing."
Joe Jacobi, a former Olympic gold medal canoeist and the CEO of U.S. Canoe/Kayak, has a unique relationship with Queen having coached her leading up the 2008 Olympics.
He describes her as wise beyond her years.
"She has a terrific awareness of what's going on around her in the water," Jacobi said. "In whitewater, instincts and guts are a big part of what you do. You have to train those reflexes. Whitewater is always changing. It's not easy. Can you imagine Bubba Watson trying to putt last weekend at the Masters with the green moving around him? Not easy."
A U.S. woman hasn't won a medal at the Olympics since Rebecca Giddens took silver in 2004.
Queen aims to change that.
But first there's the matter of getting there.
"She has been an outstanding ambassador for the sport and U.S. kayaking," Jacobi said. "She really embraces the Team USA part of her work on the water and the Olympic values. I have an 11-year old daughter that really looks up to her. You know when Caroline gets to the Olympics one day - and she will get there - she'll represent you well in and out of the water."