My paddle slapped the water–splish-splash, splish-splash. My arms moved rhythmically, left side, right side, left side, right side.
The Olympic timing tower loomed ahead, a tall square-shaped lighthouse guiding me across the finish line.
I thrust my paddle into the water with all the strength I had and shot past it. As I slid by, I caught the glint of the early morning sun shining through the five Olympic rings. I cheered and raised my paddle in victory!
Of course, it was a victory only in my imagination. I’m a novice paddler at best, so this was one of the few chances I’d ever have at paddling in the wake of champions.
Fifteen years earlier, in 1996, the Summer Olympic rowing events had been held on this spot at Lake Lanier in Northeast Georgia. Crowds had cheered. Paddlers had competed for the most prestigious medals of all, an Olympic Gold Medal.
- Lake Lanier (officially Lake Sidney Lanier) is a manmade lake situated in the foothills of the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains.
- Lake Lanier was created by the damming of the Chattahoochee River by the Buford Dam in 1956.
- Lake Lanier is also fed by the waters of the Chestatee River that flows out of the Appalachians.
- Lake Lanier covers 3800 acres and has around 690 miles of shoreline when the lake is at normal levels.
- Lake Lanier had low water levels through the mid-2000s, but they returned to normal in 2009. See the video.
- Lake Lanier has a maximum depth of 160 feet and with its miles of shoreline, the lake is popular for all types of water activities including houseboating.
- The rowing events of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia were held on Lake Lanier at Gainsville.
- Clarks Bridge Park, built on Lake Lanier for the Olympic games, still provides a world-class facility for rowing events.
I met Cheryl Smith, Regional Tourism Representative for the Northeast Georgia Mountains, on a press trip to the area. She’s an avid kayaker and luckily for me, volunteered to take me out on Lake Lanier.
She picked me up from Lake Lanier Islands Resort, where I was staying, shortly after sunrise, so we could get in an hour’s paddling in the cool of the morning.
The first thing I realized was that there wasn’t a beach here to push the kayak out into the water—I’d have to learn a new skill and put in at the dock. Ten feet of water would be way over my head if I tipped the kayak!
I watched the kayak floating on the water and gingerly stuck one leg in, thankful for the lifejacket I wore. The kayak wobbled. Cheryl grinned, held it tighter and offered me her arm. Thump! There I was, ready to set off.
Bits of tree branches and wilting leaves floated on the aqua-blue water.
Cheryl paddled up beside me in her kayak and explained that there’d been some heavy rain and the debris had washed in on the Chattahoochee River. Glancing at the clear blue bowl of sky overhead, I knew I didn’t have to worry about bad weather in the near future.
We headed out on the water, crossing under Clarks Bridge. I established an even rhythm, although I knew I was slowing Cheryl’s usual morning pace pretty dramatically.
The time passed quickly and soon I was out on the actual Olympic course, the finish line in sight. My competitive spirit kicked into gear and I increased the tempo of my paddling—for a few seconds there on Lake Lanier I was an Olympian athlete.
And that, of course, is what made this kayaking experience memorable. I’m not a great athlete, but kayaking is one of the few non-motorized sports that I’ve tried and found I had some natural ability at–maybe it comes from having a grandmother who loved canoeing and fishing. Whatever the reasons, a morning being able to imagine I was kayaking in the wake of Olympians definitely put this adventure in spot #11 on my 2012 Staycation of great trips I’ve taken over the years!
Have you ever wondered if you could kayak? This YouTube video introduces you to the basic, easy-to-learn strokes:
CLARKS BRIDGE PARK
- Phone: (770) 535-8280
- URL: http://www.lakelanier.com/directory/parks/clarks-bridge-park/view-details/
- Open: Year-round
- Water depth: About 10 feet at the dock
- Services: picnic tables & grills, swimming platform, beach & designated swim area, public washrooms, boat ramp, boat dock, Lanier centre
- Boat Ramp: Free public ramp
- Rentals: Canoe and kayak rentals from the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center
This article was previously published in a similar format in the May, 2011, edition of the print magazine, Heartland Boating.