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Water work

As 2012 approaches, the Oklahoma River fills with Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls preparing to make a splash in London.

Charles Martin August 17th, 2011

For more than 40 world-class athletes, the road to the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics Games in London runs directly through downtown Oklahoma City. There, the National High Performance Center has made the Oklahoma River a prime spot for athletes to prepare to take on the world.

With less than a year left to prep for potentially career-defining performances, athletes are relocating from nationwide to train extensively with the staff and facilities in Oklahoma City. Kayaker Kaitlyn McElroy (pictured) moved from Maine a year and a half ago to train with her K2 partner, Jen Burke.

In that time, McElroy said the growth in the OKC program has been impressive because of investments in training facilities along the river, as well as attracting high-caliber coaches. 

“For me, training here is the complete package,” she said. “Having a great coach is definitely a part of it. If you get along well and respect your coach, you can make so many more strides. Having so many facilities makes things so much easier. You aren’t stressed trying to find equipment, fitting training in here and there, or driving around trying to find it.”

In April, Jacqui Kapinowski migrated from New Jersey. Having previously competed on the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair curling team, she sought a more active summer sport. After discussing kayaking with team coaches, she was invited to OKC to try her hand at adaptive rowing.

“It was for a four-day camp, but four months later, I’m still here,” Kapinowski said. “I guess they saw my potential because they asked meto stay and train. I was taken aback by it, since I thought it was just a camp. I didn’t realize I was at an Olympic/ Paralympic training center. I thought I was just down here to try out rowing.”

Training here is the complete package.

—Kaitlyn McElroy

Kapinowski suffers from a degenerative neurological disorder resulting from a rare form of bacterial meningitis that is usually fatal. She’s survived the infection twice, but the disease has left her with stiff person syndrome, a rare, progressive disorder with no known cure.

Despite the odds, she fits in Paralympic training and qualifying races with year-round marathons.

“It’s one of those things that you never think could happen to you until it does,” she said. “But my husband keeps me going, keeps pushing me to remain active. That’s the hardest part of training in Oklahoma City: being away from my family. ... Thank God for Skype.”

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