Pushing for Progress – Peter Cowan’s Journey to Clinching Silver

Peter Cowan’s va’a silver medal at the ICF Paracanoe World Championships in Szeged was a remarkable milestone in his paddling career and moves him one step further in his aim to compete at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

In the thrilling VL3 200m final, Cowan finished just 0.071 seconds behind Ukraine’s Vladyslav Yepifanov. Australia’s Curtis McGrath, the reigning Olympic champion, secured third place. This performance not only represented Peter’s hard work and dedication but also secures a highly sought-after quota spot for New Zealand at the upcoming Paralympics in Paris.

Va’a, more commonly known as Waka Ama in Aotearoa, have an outrigger and are paddled with just one blade. L3 represents their para canoe classification.

The 2024 ICF Paracanoe VL3 200m World Championship Podium

This marks Cowan’s first world championship medal and highlights his significant progress over the past year. At last year’s World Championships, Cowan finished ninth in what was one of the tightest finals of the competition, agonisingly missing out on a paralympic quota spot awarded to the top 6.

Reflecting on his journey, Cowan shared, “Winning the silver medal in the men’s VL3 200m event feels pretty unreal if I’m being honest. The realisation process took a while to digest. To come away with a result like this in a very competitive division is no easy feat. So to comprehend that the performances we produced are worthy of this result is very humbling to me, my coach, our whānau, and community.”

Peter is a member of Haeata Ocean Sports Inc. and Hawkes Bay Kayak Racing Club in the Hawkes Bay, and is coached by Myka Nuku.

Cowan’s race strategy focused on consistency and precision, essential for an event that relies heavily on paddle steering rather than rudder use.

“We knew we had to play to our strength in our start so we could build and maintain till the end,” Cowan explained. “Coming into each race with our sole focus on the race plan took away a bit of pressure, not all of it but enough for us to dial out the noise and go full send.”

Peter and his coach Myka Nuku

The months leading up to the World Championships involved dynamic and meticulous preparation. Building on his performances from last year, Cowan made small but significant improvements, balancing physical training with crucial recovery periods. This strategy proved effective as he navigated the challenges leading to his silver medal victory.

Cowan’s success is supported by a robust team, starting with his immediate family – his wife, two young children, and extended whānau – and extending to his coach, friends, and the both the waka ama and canoe racing paddling communities. Their collective support has been instrumental in his journey.

Securing a Paralympic quota spot for New Zealand is a tremendous honour for Cowan and a testament to the collective effort and dedication of everyone involved in his campaign.

“To know my team and I have secured a quota for New Zealand at the upcoming Paralympics feels very special. I can’t explain how grateful we are to everyone that has helped us reach this milestone,” he said.

His Paralympic dream is now in the hands of Paralympics New Zealand who determine New Zealand team selection. Two-time Paralympian Scott Martlew also earned a Paris quota spot for NZ in the KL2 200m event. An announcement is expected in June.

Looking ahead, Cowan’s plans include solid training during New Zealand’s winter months, focusing on staying healthy and injury-free. Long-term, he hopes to inspire more para-athletes to take up paddling and join the racing scene.

Cowan’s love for the sport is deeply rooted in the connections it fosters. “What I love about the sport is the opportunity it brings to connect with people from all walks of life. I love how this sport can enhance people’s mana while bringing our communities together,” he shared.

The friendships and camaraderie formed through competition are what make his journey in canoeing truly fulfilling.

Well done to Peter, his whanau and support team, and Waka Ama NZ for their achievements.

Read more about Peter’s story here https://www.acc.co.nz/newsroom/stories/peters-story-waka-ama-changed-my-life