A major knee injury and two bouts of coronavirus this year couldn’t hold up maddi leblanc down or compete for Canada on the international stage next week.
As the Welland native geared up for a trip to Poland this weekend, you could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in her voice as she spoke about the International Canoe Federation‘s (ICF) World SUP (Standup Paddleboard) Championships.
It’s the first time in four years that Leblanc, 25, has been able to step back on an SUP and compete for the country, along with six of his Team Canada teammates – Emilie Fournel, Tamas Buday, Tim Oliver, Daniel Miller , Danielle Holdsworth and Kirsty MacMillian.
“I went to China to compete in the world championships in 2018. I still can’t believe it,” she said.
Leblanc didn’t expect to make the team at the time, as she was unable to compete in a meet in Victoria, B.C., where coaches had to select the roster for the World Championships in International Surf Association (ISA) SUP Paddleboard.
But a vacancy with the team opened up an opportunity to compete in China for the now Toronto-based Surf the Greats general manager. She competed in two events, technical and distance, finishing 27th overall in technical and second on the Canadian team. That year she also earned three first-place finishes in the Ontario Race Series and finished second at the Provincials and fourth at the Canada East Finals.
“I always wanted to compete again, but the opportunity never arose,” said Leblanc, who completed her master’s degree at Brock University in outdoor recreation.
In 2019, she competed at the Nationals for a spot on Team Canada at the ISA World Championships in El Salvador, but the Canadian Surfing Association did not send a contingent to the Central American nation.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, canceling the world championships in 2020.
“There were world championships planned for 2021, but our team captain, Tamas Buday, said with the state of the world, international travel was probably not the best thing to do.
The 2021 championships were held in Hungary and Leblanc had it on his racing schedule and was training for it.
She knew the world championships were in Poland this year and kept it on her radar, but she wasn’t giving him hope, especially when the global pandemic seemed to be on the rise again. The Russian invasion and the war in Ukraine also played a role for her.
With gyms closed, she started training at a friend’s house to stay in shape and she contracted the coronavirus twice.
“With everything going on, I planned to wait and see how things unfold.”
Fortunately, things worked out in favor for her and the team.
However, in May, while skateboarding on a pump track in Lincoln, she fell and injured her left knee. Pump tracks, originally designed for BMX riders but later used by skateboarders, are a series of rollers, banked turns and features designed to be ridden by pumping up and down through the motions of the body instead of using a foot to push off.
A bone bruise, sprained ACL and partially torn meniscus forced Leblanc to wear a brace all day, every day for every activity, even walking around the store in Toronto.
“I’ve just been cleared for the past two weeks. I only have to wear it for high-risk activities. I have full range of motion, but I feel it if all my weight is on that knee. The doctors told me it would take six months to a year to heal,” said Leblanc, who will wear the brace while competing in Poland.
“I won’t be surfing for a while,” she said, adding that it was a high-risk activity. Leblanc SUP surfs at Pleasant Beach on Lake Erie.
She is grateful to run and compete at the World Championships in Gdynia, Poland, with a population of over 243,000, on the Baltic Sea. Gdynia is about an hour north of the port city of Gdansk.
“I will participate in the technical and distance races. There are male and female divisions where each athlete wins in their respective division and in the end all the points they get count together for the country.
Leblanc, who organized and ran the OnBoard fundraiser on the Welland Recreational Canal for years, avoids sprint racing, which would put too much strain on his knee.
“The technical course is one kilometer long and has quite a few turns at the buoy. It’s almost like a sprint but there are two or three laps in the race.
Turns are something Leblanc is still working on, trying to perfect around a buoy in the fastest and smoothest way possible.
Distance races are generally between 12 and 16 kilometers.
She said the team – she has paddled with every member over the years – is leaving for Poland on Sunday so they can acclimate to the six-hour jet lag and train on the high seas. Her teammate Daniel Miller was part of Team Canada in 2018 when she competed.
“We have to connect our equipment.”
The White will be competing on a Starboard racing SUP and said the company is shipping a board to Poland for her. Race SUPs are thinner than standard SUPs, such as those typically used at Welland’s Rentals @ the Docks at Welland’s Rotary Park.
His races will take place on Friday September 9 and Sunday September 11.
“I am super grateful for this experience. I’m excited to continue learning and growing in my paddling journey,” said Leblanc, who has been SUPing since 2013 and competing since 2016.
Women Networking In Sports of Niagara describes itself as a social group of like-minded women working together to empower female athletes in the region to directly help women of all ages in sport by giving them the opportunity to participate and compete in sport. On his website, he said female athletes/teams can apply for funding directly or have someone apply on their behalf.
“They deserve a big thumbs up,” Leblanc said.