Though Comox Lake is a short drive from Cumberland’s west end, past the Chinese town site and a quaint collection of waterside cabins, it’s arguably best witnessed when stumbled upon through forest. Its many inlets provide an ideal vantage point of the glacier-fed waters at the base of the Beaufort Range. In the warmer months the lake reflects a sharp summer sun, an idyllic scene of Canadian summer. In the winter it’s distinctly west coast, colours reduced to a limited palette of green and grey, the lake’s far shoreline erased by low-lying fog.
When Andrea Keenan arrived in the Comox Valley five years ago she saw something else amongst the natural beauty of the lake. She saw the perfect conditions to support a passion that has spanned two decades of her life: paddling and multidisciplinary training.
The opportunity to work with Victoria based VI Paddling was born. The organization, which supports both recreational paddlers and athletes who have their sights set on elite level competitions, has witnessed a surge of athletes based in and around the Comox Valley. Creating a hub for paddlers on Comox Lake seemed a natural forward step. Ample space, wind-protected waters, and close proximity to residents combine to make it an ideal location for training.
“We have to be the luckiest paddlers on the island,” says Leanne Reid, a seasoned paddler training to attend the 2016 Club Crew Championships in Adelaide, Australia. “We regularly share the lake with eagles out fishing, and the view of the mountains and the glacier is breathtaking. To paddle in fresh water is a little different from salt water, so it’s a nice change.”
Keenan agrees. “From a paddling perspective, it’s one of the most beautiful places to train in all of Canada.” And she would know.
Since 1993, after her first experience paddling a war canoe with a group of close friends at the Rideau Canoe club in her hometown of Ottawa, Keenan has maintained a fierce commitment to the sport. Throughout an extensive career she has travelled internationally as both athlete and coach, and was a member of the National Sprint Kayak team.
Though Keenan finds deep fulfillment from paddling difficult to describe, she articulates clearly the benefits one can expect to gain from the sport. “It’s low impact, full-body exercise, building core strength and balance, making it suitable for almost anyone. Some of our best paddlers are soccer, rugby and hockey players with lower body injuries that still want to push themselves physically. For kids, it’s a fantastic way to build body awareness and balance, which are skills that transfer well into activities that interest them later in life.”
Dragon Boating, the first branch of the sport coming to Comox Lake, has a key social component. She explains that it is often associated with breast cancer survivors, as the sport has been used to create beneficial support networks for women. The same quality applies to single parents, new residents, seniors and children. An additional benefit belongs to the community as a whole, since human-powered boating allows Comox Valley residents to experience and enjoy the lake while respecting it as a fresh water reservoir and a source of drinking water.
Keenan’s experience and enthusiasm make her a compelling advocate for paddling, whether you interact with her on land or water. “When I look back over my life,” she recalls, “I see that my fondest memories are on the water. I want to share my love of a sport that demands strength, endurance, patience and grace. I invite everyone to enter into this new world that rests in our own backyard; a place that has been my sanctuary for many years.”