Competing in what will be only his third regatta and less than 12 months after taking up the sport, para-canoeist Corbin Hart is travelling to Szeged, Hungary later this week in pursuit of a place at the Paralympic Games.
Corbin, who lost his right leg in a civil roading accident in December 2019, only took up the sport of para-canoe in July last year but has made some rapid strides.
Proving a quick learner, the former ski paddler with the Red Beach Surf Lifesaving impressed on his debut regatta last October – finished second in the Men’s Division 2 A Final of the K1 200m at Blue Lake 1, recording a quickest time of 42.20.
Then just two months later on his return to Lake Tikitapu for Blue Lake 2 he showed further evidence of his progression by clocking 39.69 in the heats of the men’s K1 200m.
“Looking back on those two regattas I was pleased,” adds Corbin. “The times were good and I was happy with how I performed.”
Planning to improve upon those performances at the New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro in February he was disappointed that Covid restrictions led to the postponement of the event.
However, that same weekend his club – North Shore Canoe Club – organised a fun-day regatta, where Corbin was encouraged to record another 39-second time for the 200m distance.
To offer further proof of his potential to qualify for the Paralympic Games, the 26-year-old paddler was then fitted with a rover on Lake Pupuke. Asked to perform a series of tests including 75m sprints, some rolling sprints and some 150s he once again recorded a 39-second clocking for the 200m – which offered more clarification of his exciting ability.
“The time showed everything was heading in the right direction and it was reassuring to receive that feedback on the times with all the correct data,” adds Corbin, who lives in Red Beach in the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
“It was this point that CRNZ and I looked into the possibility of qualifying for the Paralympics via the World Cup in Szeged.
“In the back of my mind I was thinking, what am I doing, but unless I try I am not going to find out,” he adds. “So far I’ve been comparing myself with the able-bodied guys but I have to remember I’m not going to be racing them in the future.”
Despite the well-documented challenges of travelling overseas during a global pandemic, Corbin’s path to Szeged was eased by the fact he has already received his second vaccine by virtue of being a family member of a father who works in the ports as a border worker.
Corbin also still needs to be officially classified – however the option to do so (he is expected to be a KL3) was eased by the fact an official classification event takes place just days before the regatta in Szeged.
All of which means Corbin will be flying out to Hungary on Thursday (May 7) for the regatta which takes place on May 14-16 – the same weekend as the rescheduled national canoe sprint championships.
So how is he feeling at the moment about the experience?
“I’m going through a real rollercoaster of emotions,” he explains. “Some days I think, I’ve got this, this is easy and then the next moment I’m thinking, what am I doing. This is only my third regatta.”
Chasing four remaining qualification spots for Tokyo, Corbin is hopeful he can bank one of those slots and feature for New Zealand in the para-canoe team for the Paralympic Games in Japan.
“I’m proud of how far I’ve come in such a short space of time, I just want to give it my all and if I can do that I’ll be at peace with my performance.”