To be the very best, an athlete’s body and mind must be in peak condition.
But what changes when a sport also depends on a vessel to carry competitors through their event?
A decorated Olympian across canoe slalom disciplines, Jessica Fox strikes a balance in training her body as well as preserving her canoes and kayaks.
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Speaking to Wide World of Sports, Fox explained the tedious process of boat maintenance and her routine of repairs to prevent leaks and enhance her performance.
“The kayaks and canoes are made of carbon fibre, so as soon as you hit a rock on the course or scrape the bottom while turning, it starts to create a bit of wear and tear that you’ve got to deal with,” she said.
“I try to fix things just before a competition to make sure my boats don’t leak but otherwise I’m pretty slack and I try to persuade others to do it for me.”
Despite the elite and professional nature of the ICF World Cup circuit, remarkably, most paddlers complete their boat repairs themselves.
“Outside of competition we do our own maintenance or I get other people to do it for me,” Fox said.
“That’s where other sports are quite different – [for example] with skiing they have people who prepare and take care of their skis, that’s their job and they travel with the athlete.
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“For us, we are a smaller sport, but also the same level of maintenance doesn’t need to be done everyday – just every so often.
“Usually when we are overseas, there are different people and venues who specialise in repairs. So, in the lead-up to a competition they will offer their services or the event organisers will have a crew on hand in case anyone breaks their equipment.”
By doing it herself, Fox’s boat maintenance also needs to be worked on around her training schedule, video review sessions and numerous physio and massage appointments.
As you may have already gathered, Fox is the first to admit that for her, completing boat maintenance feels likes like a chore.
“I should do more of it,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s one of those things that I’d much rather pay someone to do it for me because I know it will be done better than if I do it myself.
“It’s certainly not something I like to do but that’s all part of it, right? There are things you like to do, things you have to do and things you don’t enjoy but do anyway.”
While images of duct tape and silicone come to mind, Fox assures that the process is “much more than that”.
“There are different things that we do with resin, carbon and putty,” she said.
Fox then describes how resin and hardener are applied to the bottom of the boat to reinforce it in case of impact with an obstruction.
This ensures that the contact wears through the added layer first and protects the carbon fibre underneath.
While striving for a clean run motivates paddlers to complete their boat maintenance, Fox admits that funds and finite resources also play a part.
“In some sports, athletes will have multiple pieces of equipment, but for us, generally we have one kayak and one canoe per season,” she said.
“So unless you really destroy a boat, you have to take care of it to make it last the year.”
Nevertheless, after over 10 years at the top of canoe slalom, Fox recognises that bumps, scratches and mends are all part of the sport.
So much so that she uses the battle scars to distinguish between the many boats of her career.
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