Wild about water
Kate Chapman meets Team GB medal-winning canoeist Lucy Guest, who fought back from injury to be selected to represent her country.
Lucy Guest took up canoeing 10 years ago and has been making a splash in the sport ever since. Now she’s celebrating after claiming her first major championship medals.
The 21-year-old who grew up in Scothern, on the outskirts of Lincoln, started competing in flat sprint and marathon events but fell in love with wildwater racing after moving her training to the National Water Sports Centre, in Nottinghamshire.
Last year, Lucy was delighted to win a gold and two bronze medals at the U23 World Championships in the Czech Republic, where she represented Team GB in individual and team wildwater events.
Lucy says the championships were a “dream of a competition” thanks to her three podium finishes, including her first race, the individual classic – 20-minute time trial – where she took bronze.
“To get third, having seen where I was a year ago was amazing. This championship is a four-day event, and it’s tough. We took part in the team classic the following day and just missed out on gold by half a second. It was agonising – but it was our first team medal, so we were still so happy.
“However, when we get off the water, we have to get the boats weighed. One of the Czech boats, which had won the gold, was a bit underweight, which meant they were disqualified, and we were promoted to gold,” explains Lucy.
“There was a very chaotic 20 minutes where we didn’t know if we had got it or not, we were just waiting for that confirmation. It was crazy, but we were so happy!
“Because of my times in the individual sprint event, I didn’t make the team for the last day, but then one of the other girls wasn’t feeling great. It was my birthday and I was sitting on the bus, relaxing, having a great time, when I was told I had to race. I had two hours’ notice – but we came away with another bronze, which was amazing! We thought we could do well, but never imagined that.”
Lucy took up canoeing when she was 11 years old, inspired by a visit to the Lincoln club where her dad, Rob, was a member.
Although she knew a few people there, she’d never wanted to try out before, but was prompted to give it a go after an awards night.
She recalls: “Dad competed at quite a high level, but he never forced me to get involved. We’d go down there sometimes, but I’d never really seen him paddle. We went to an award’s night and that’s when I decided that I wanted to a win a trophy.
“I started paddling at Brayford Pool, in Lincoln, and then I’d go out on Fosdyke Canal. I did my first competition that summer. It was a marathon race, which for my age category at the time was two miles, and I came second. That’s when I got a taste for it.
“As a sport it’s very addictive; if you do well, you want to keep improving and try and do better, if you don’t get the result you want you go over it, look at where you can improve and work towards that.”
Lucy trained up to four times a week after school and at weekends, and progressed to six sessions, including mornings before school.
She quickly moved up the junior ranks to become one of the best in the county, competing over both marathon and sprint distances on flat water. When she was 16 she joined Nottingham Kayak Club, to train at the National Water Sports Centre, Holme Pierrepoint, in Nottingham.
“That’s how I got into wildwater canoeing, they have a slalom course at Holme Pierrepoint,” says Lucy, who studied nutrition at the University of Nottingham. “They were looking for more junior girls to compete in wildwater racing and I was invited to have a go. I was soon beating some of the senior athletes; they could see I was quite good at it, so I started training in that too. It was great fun trying something different, as training can sometimes be repetitive. The wildwater is more strenuous as you have to power through and then keep going. It can be tiring mentally too.”
Lucy competes in the 20-minute time trial and 400m sprint, both individually, and as part of a three-member team.
Her first major competition was the Junior and U23 Wildwater Canoeing World Championships 2019 in Banja Luka, Bosnia, when she’d only been competing in the wildwater discipline for a few months.
“I was quite nervous as I was fairly new to it, but I did OK, finishing 19th and I was pleased,” she recalls.
“Then Covid came. Our family is quite active, we had lots of old equipment in the garage, so Dad created me a little gym in the garden, and I’d go out for runs. I’d paddle on the river by myself, which can be hard, but it was nice and peaceful, and we did some Zoom training sessions with the canoe club so we could still see everyone.”
After the pandemic, Lucy attended the senior and U23 European Championships, in Spain, where she placed 10th in the senior event and sixth in the U23 category.
“The time before I was 19th, so it was a big improvement. It was a really good championship, and going in after that break due to Covid, we didn’t know how we were going to perform, or how anyone else would do,” adds Lucy.
“However, 2022 was a terrible year, I had a back injury and was out for quite a few months, I couldn’t run or paddle. I was selected for the under 23s European competition. I had around three weeks training and finished 12th.”
Lucy is now hoping to build on last year’s success.
“I have lots of goals for this year – I want to achieve selection again and keep making the podium at wildwater events, and just see how far I can go. I’m only 21. I try not to look too far ahead, but set myself smaller goals, and then go for the next one. This sport has taken me to lots of different countries and there’s a great camaraderie among the team, even though we’re often competing against each other.
“It’s a balancing act fitting everything in but I’m really enjoying it and can’t wait to see what happens next.”
For more information about the sport, visit www.britishcanoeing.org.uk
Photographs: courtesy Lucy Guest & British Canoeing