The Outside Blog

Adventure : Jun 2012

Teva Games Q&A: Kayaker Mike Dawson

Winning both the Steep Creek Championship and the Down River Sprint this past weekend at the Teva Mountain Games, Kiwi Mike Dawson showed the rest of the world that he’s ready for the big games—the Olympic Games, that is. We caught up with Dawson between races about his upcoming debut at the London Olympics in August; his equally-badass girlfriend, Martina Wegman, who swept all women’s kayaking events; and how he tries to close the gap between slalom kayakers and creek boaters.

You’ve been doing pretty well this weekend. Do you normally sweep the Teva Games?
No way. The first year I came and won everything. I arrived the second year thinking I would just rock out and get the check. Well, I got smoked. I find that if I’m too confident going into an event, I’ll blow it. I do my best when I go in thinking, It’ll be hard, but I want this.

So is that your mentality for the Olympics?
Exactly. It’s anyone’s race. If I go in there thinking it’s going to be easy, I’ll get killed. But if I can perform to the level that I’m capable of, it should be sweet. Otherwise it will be a fun time partying.

How are you using the Teva Games to prep for the Olympics?
In the last few weeks, I’ve been on 16 different flights, so I needed a break from the monotony of training and the stress of the games. The Teva races are full on, but they’re a different kind of race than what I’m used to. The real practice I’m getting is with the cameras, the media, the money, and loud commentary. It’s not the Olympics, but there are just as many distractions. And at the Olympics, it’s going to be 20 times as big.

This will be your first Olympics. Are you nervous?
Four years ago, I was in trials for the Olympics and though I could’ve easily made it, I choked. I’m not going to let that happen again. Ever since I blew it, I’ve been focusing on my run and not getting intimidated by all the action.

So do you think you’re ready?
Yes. I’ve made some changes in my training and my lifestyle so that I won’t mess it up again. This past year, I’ve paddled better and more confidently than ever before.

What kind of changes did you make?
I make sure I’m enjoying the water, even if that means training less, and doing the things that I love, like going to Vail for a week. Most slalom kayakers wouldn’t even think of taking a week off in the middle of the season. My mentality is that if you feel good, you pull harder, and if you pull harder, you go faster. Your sport should never be your job. You can get paid to do it, but it should never become your work.

This mentality is quite different from other slalom kayakers. Why so?
I try to mix between slalom guys and creek boaters, which is unusual. In most countries, slalom and creek boating are segregated because slalom paddling is so competitive and strict. In New Zealand, everyone is about the same thing—getting out on the water and having fun. That’s how it should be, because in reality, we’re all after the same rush.

It sounds corny, but harvesting the power of the water is a special feeling and that’s what all paddlers want.

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Teva Games Q&A: All-Mountain Man Josiah Middaugh

At 33-years-old, Josiah Middaugh has been unbeatable in the Teva Mountain Games’ Ultimate Mountain Challenge (UMC) since it started six years ago; he’s won every edition. But Teva is just his warm-up. He’s a seven-time X-Terra National tri champ and will be competing in—count ‘em—seven X-Terra events this summer. For the past 12 years, he hasn’t gone a month without competing. We caught up with Middaugh mid-UMC, which he went on to win. Naturally.

This was your sixth appearance at the Teva Mountain Games. How have you progressed over the years?
I’ve become more and more competitive at every event. As I’ve gotten better, though, the field has gotten better too, and most of the time better than me. I used to be able to get on the podium in the individual events and now I have a hard time doing that.

What event do you struggle most with?
The paddle, by far. I had never kayaked before I entered the Teva Mountain Challenge. The first year, I bought a kayak for a hundred bucks and took it to a lake nearby and taught myself how to roll. That’s the extent of my training. After six years, the locals still laugh at my attire and my boat. Most of the races, I end up upside down.

Do you practice for the paddle at all?
No, I dread it too much. I go out the day before the race and paddle once, then won’t even look at the kayak again for a year. For the real kayakers this is easy, but for me this is the most stressful and intense event all year.

Are you just not a water person?
With most of the other events I don’t feel like I’m risking my life. With kayaking, the water is so powerful and so unpredictable that it becomes a mental and physical challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I love challenges, but that river can be pretty intense.

If the paddle is the event you’re dreading, then which one are you looking forward to?
The run is my favorite, even though I suffer the most. I think it makes you feel alive. It’s also super competitive—actually one of the hardest 10k’s in the country—because you’re surrounded by the best trail runners out there.

You’ve been doing this for a while—12 years in fact. Will you ever stop?
As long as I’m competitive, I’ll keep doing this for as long as I can. I’ll do it until my kids start beating me. They’re actually doing the mud run right now, so perhaps it’s sooner than I think.

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