By Kate Stoltzfus
At the world championships for kayaking, the sky opened up on Austin Schwinn just as he was tucking his boat into the water. He was drenched in a downpour as lap after lap brought him closer to the finish line.
Schwinn, an 18-year-old freshman at Goshen College, traveled to Spain in late September to attend his third world championship for kayaking. He went as one of 13 members of the U.S. team and spent a week in Barcelona competing with the top 35 teams from around the globe.
To qualify for this competition, Schwinn went through a selection process of various races known as team trials. Once in the running for this prestigious title, racers compete individually, with each member in his own event ranked by age divisions. Schwinn won team trials and was the only person in his competing division for ages 23 and under to represent the U.S.
“It’s really exciting to be in a race with the top people in the world and get to know people of different cultures,” said Schwinn.
Schwinn bought his first boat on a whim. “[It was] something my brothers and I could all enjoy together,” he said. “We went to a kayak shop and bought boats and the guy that sold them to us, [Matt Streib], just happened to be an Olympian. He and his mom were the ones who got me into it.”
Streib owns a kayak shop, Fluid Fun, in Bristol. He has acted as Schwinn’s coach for the last five years. “[Austin] has taken time to really learn the sport,” said Streib, on Schwinn’s success. “He’s learned how to really excel.”
Since slipping into the water five years ago, Schwinn has been paddling in numerous competitions and won three national championships. He has also been placing in the twenties at the world competition, where he competes against many older, more experienced racers.
Schwinn’s 26 km race on Lake Banyoles began with someone holding the back of his boat to prevent a false start. When the horn blew, kayakers sliced through six laps around the lake, staying inside marked buoys. Between each lap, racers completed a portage, which involves running with the kayak to get back in the water.
“It’s a huge adrenaline rush,” says Schwinn, who was in the top 15 in his first lap and then fell behind. “The race was two hours, really intense.”
He worked hard to get caught up, finishing in 27th place. “As soon as I’m done with a race, I like to forget about it for a while,” he said. “I’ve been building up for one race all year; you kind of want to let yourself relax.”
But Schwinn won’t stay out of the water too long. “Right now I have a few weeks off,” he said. “ I haven’t been in my boat for a week, and I’m already missing it. On days off, I can’t wait to get back in.”
Schwinn is already making plans for competitions next year, though he isn’t sure if he’ll compete in the world championships. He may spend time doing other big races in Europe.
When asked why he races, he just shakes his head. “I do this for myself. If you’re going to be this into something, you can’t do it for anyone else. It has to be for you.”