Claudia Van Wijk receives world recognition

Amsterdam-based World Paddle Awards (WPA) honoured Claudia Van Wijk on March 20 with their prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to paddle sports. WPA’s announcement said that as director of Madawaska Kanu Centre (MKC), Van Wijk inspired thousands of people to start whitewater paddling and has mentored “countless Canadian slalom athletes. She also played an instrumental role in securing the sport of Canoe Slalom into the 2015 Toronto Pan AM Games. As a TV broadcast analyst she has also been the voice for Canoe Slalom on television, projecting her addictive passion for paddling the rivers.”

Van Wijk inherited her lifelong passion for whitewater from her parents, Christa and Hermann Kerckhoff, who in 1972 opened the world’s first commercial whitewater paddling school here in the Valley on the Madawaska River. The family business is now transitioning into the hands of the third generation. Click HERE to read more about this. MKC offers high level whitewater instruction at international competition level as well as a range of courses and river experiences for all ages and skill levels.

To residents of Madawaska Valley, Van Wijk said,

The Valley has adopted me as a local and that has been a huge honour from Day One. It was my summer home, but way back Paul Yakabuski was so proud and just said, “Local athlete Claudia Kerckhoff.” I’ll never forget that…. Barry’s Bay especially has been so positive and I’ve never felt not part of the community. I really appreciate that.

Her work – not just with MKC but also with local, regional and national tourism organizations – has introduced countless international tourists to the Valley when they come here to paddle the Madawaska. Nicole Whiting, Executive Director of Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization (OHTO), said it was no surprise that van Wijk received this award. In a video on the WPA website, Whiting said of Van Wijk,

Claudia has made it possible for anyone to have an incredible experience on the river regardless of age or fitness level, often leading to a lifetime relationship with the water.

As for being the first woman in the sport to win the WPA Lifetime Achievement Award, Van Wijk told The Current,

Being a woman has been an advantage in my life. Because I am in a male-dominated sport, the media liked me as a young athlete…. It’s a risk-perceived sport so I was more written about.… All along it has actually been a door opener – not a closer – and I have been treated equally. That has just given me confidence in life – especially in the Valley. When I first took over running MKC, tradespeople would come in the office and say, “Just want to talk to the boss.” I’d come down and say, “I’m the boss.” And they would say, “No, the real boss.” They just assumed the real boss was a man. It happened up until probably the last ten years…. I found it really funny.


Photo courtesy MKC-OWL


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