Young canoers setting high standards Through the Boy Scouts, Ben Hefner became acquainted with canoeing and copperheads. Canoeing got into his blood to stay; the effects of the snake venom, thankfully, were short-lived.
Photo: USA Canoe/Kayak - Ben Hefner, 19, of Gainesville, Ga., is one of the top U.S. Olympic hopes in sprint, also called flatwater, canoe.
Through the Boy Scouts, Ben Hefner became acquainted with canoeing and copperheads. Canoeing got into his blood to stay; the effects of the snake venom, thankfully, were short-lived.
Hefner, 19, of Gainesville, Ga., is one of the top U.S. Olympic hopes in sprint, also called flatwater, canoe. Earning a merit badge for canoeing on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, he says, is “part of the reason I took to it so quickly.”
There was no applicable merit badge, though, when a 12-year-old Hefner encountered a copperhead on a camping trip. “Somehow it had gotten into my tent,” he says, “and when I was climbing in it bit me in the arm.”
Where’s a paddle when you need one?
Hefner spent the night at the hospital as medical staff drew circles on his left arm to mark the swelling. If the swelling got past his shoulder, it would require antivenom. “It came right up to my shoulder and then stopped,” Hefner says. “If they give you the antivenom, then it won’t work the next time, so they had to be careful.”
Hefner has since steered clear of copperheads while aiming for gold medals. He won seven at the 2010 national championships, spanning both junior and senior divisions.
Last week Hefner and teammates Robert Finlayson and Alejandro Schwedhelm took a break from training at Lake Lanier in Gainesville, site of the 1996 Olympics, to do some dry land public relations.
They made an appearance at the Atlanta Tennis Championships, greeting visitors to the "BMW Drive for Team USA" sponsor booth as part of the USOC Facebook campaign promoting athletes. The trio answered questions about their sport and signed autographs, wielding a pen as deftly as a paddle.
“Ben is a part of a very dynamic young group of sprint canoeists in the U.S., specifically out of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club,” says Joe Jacobi, executive director of USA Canoe/Kayak. “These kids are pushing each other. As long as they work hard and believe in what they’re doing, they’re going to get a lot of support.
“We just haven’t had many canoeists paddling at this level over the past few years.”
The United States did not send any sprint canoers to Beijing in 2008. Team USA will try to qualify boats for the 2012 Olympics at the World Championships Aug. 17-21 in Szeged, Hungary, and the Pan American Games in October in Guadalajara, Mexico. The athletes who would occupy those boats will be determined next year.
Hefner will partner with Ian Ross, of Bethesda, Md., in C2 at Worlds. They’ll paddle 1000 meters, the Olympic distance, where the Top 14 boats will automatically qualify for the Olympics. They will probably also team up the 500 and 200, which are not Olympic events.
Finlayson, also of Gainesville, will compete in the C1 boat at the same three