Katrina Van Wijk has an appreciation for the Cheakamus River.
But even after kayaking it regularly and getting comfortable with it, some level of gun-shyness can still emerge.
"There's not much stress about it. There (are) good, clean lines all the way down. It's a really good race," she said. "The biggest challenge for me is to fight that head game."
It's something the Ottawa product overcame on May 18 with calming breathing while maximizing her alone time. The focus led to her being crowned Queen of the River in The Great Cheakamus River Extreme Kayak Race. Van Wijk posted a down-river time of 11 minutes and 40 seconds (11:40), besting New Zealand's Kim Dodd by 17 seconds and North Vancouver's Annie Lagueux by 20 seconds. It was Van Wijk's second GO Fest gold medal in as many days as she was part of the winning Great Snow-Earth-Water Race team Honey Bronzed + Very Very Desirable the previous day, as she completed the canoe portion with Richard Kemble nearly two minutes faster than the next best team.
Even though Van Wijk usually kayaks on the Class 5 rivers and the Cheakamus is a Class 4 waterway, she needed to find the intense focus to propel herself to victory.
"I was clearing my head and grounding myself," Van Wijk said. "It really isn't that scary or stressful as a run, even though it is for me right now (in competition). I can deal with it, and there are so many fun moves on the river that I just focus on the happy times."
Van Wijk, who now lives in Vancouver and is attending school for graphic design, comes up to train every weekend she is able. A third-generation paddler, whose parents run a guiding and rafting company in the nation's capital, enjoys finding new lines and trying new moves on the Cheakamus.
"I love this river," said Van Wijk. "With the Cheakamus, there are so many fun things to challenge you."
Since the river has been relatively low until recently, Van Wijk explained she'd only took to training on it within the last couple of weeks.
"Lately it's been in quite a bit," she said.
On the men's side, Slovakian competitor Pavel Andrassy was the only one to finish in under 11 minutes, posting a time of 10:55. He shared the podium with Jonny Haugen and Richard Moxon.
Andrassy, who has been in Canada for the past year, living primarily in Calgary, said he was paddling "as much as possible" in advance of the race. A paddler for the last decade he admitted that he's had better races, but was glad he performed well enough to take the win.