Thursday, July 18, 2024

Back-to-back canoe world silver medallist Brianna Hennessy officially named to second Paralympic team

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By Emma Zhao

Ottawa’s Brianna Hennessy was officially confirmed as a two-time Paralympian Monday when Canoe-Kayak Canada unveiled its Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic canoe sprint teams.

The news comes as no surprise for the 39-year-old who’s won back-to-back World Championships silver medals, but it was welcomed nonetheless following the final Canadian team trials event in Montreal this past weekend.

“I am so excited for my second Paralympic Games,” Hennessy said in the team announcement. “Our team has been working extremely hard to become a medal [contender] for these Games! I hope that we can make our country proud and bring home some shiny hardware! I can’t wait to wear the Canadian flag with the utmost pride!”

Hennessy was joined by three athletes from the area who were selected for the Canadian Olympic team – K-4 teammates Natalie Davison and Toshka Besharah-Hrebacka of the Rideau Canoe Club, and Chelsea, QC canoeist Sophia Jensen.

Hennessy is the best bet to reach the podium out of the local bunch. And make no mistake, that’s an objective of hers, though she’s trying to reframe her thinking, she told the Ottawa Sports Pages last month following the paracanoe world championships in Hungary.

Hennessy explained that she has to try to reign in her competitive nature, which wants to make goals around winning medals, when what she really should be doing is making goals on the technical side of her sport.

“I am still very new to this sport and have a lot to learn,” noted Hennessy, who finished just over one second away from a medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, less than a year after she took up paddling so she could participate in sport outdoors during COVID. “I’m working hard every day to close the gap.”

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Hennessy will be tackling that challenge without any international competitions on her schedule before the Aug. 28-Sept. 8 Paralympics. The paracanoe world championships, held from May 9-11, were the only paracanoe event the International Canoe Federation put on this season.

“[Competing internationally] allows for gaining much more experience on the world stage and being able to work through your process and tweak it much more often,” Hennessy highlighted. “Short answer, we’d love to compete more internationally.”

At the worlds, Hennessy placed second in the VL2 200-metre event, which matched her result from the previous year in Dartmouth, N.S. She was also fifth in the KL1 200 m, leapfrogged by two paddlers who she beat for bronze at the 2023 worlds.

Great Britain’s Emma Wiggs (left) and Ottawa’s Brianna Hennessy celebrate their respective VL2 200 m gold and silver medal wins at the 2024 paracanoe world championships in Hungary. Photo: ICF

Hennessy said she was “very happy” to be second in the world, which effectively locked up her ticket to Paris.

“With canoe and kayak, there is an evolution throughout the season from speed endurance to increased stroke rate and power on the water,” Hennessy signalled, noting that her peak performance target of course is the Paralympics.

“World Cup for us was very early in the season right after winter training,” she added. “I am very optimistic to see where we still sit come Paris, as we do most of our integral work over these next few months.”

Hennessy is also eager to enjoy a different experience in her second Paralympics, without the cloud of COVID that kept fans away from the Tokyo Games, which were held a year late in 2021.

In Paris, the Ottawa River Canoe Club athlete will have company from her coach Joel Hazzan, his wife and their daughter, who is her “biggest fan.”

“I am super excited to have so much support and love around me,” Hennessy indicated. “Our group is going to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower after the Games close to celebrate together.”

To commemorate her mother, who died last year, Hennessy will also bring some of her ashes to scatter from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Read More: ‘I’ve tried to let her live through me now’: Brianna Hennessy paddling to Paris 2024 with mom’s ‘superhero’ spirit

The Paris Games will also mark just the second Games where women will compete in canoe events, having previously been limited to kayak. That holds special meaning to Hennessy, who also plays wheelchair rugby, where there is no women’s event in the Paralympics.

“Women were just accepted in the Tokyo Games for canoe and paracanoe for the first time in the history of this sport,” underlined Hennessy, who is proud to paddle alongside fellow female canoeists Jensen, Katie Vincent and Sloan MacKenzie on the Canada’s Olympic team and Erica Scarff in the Paralympics. ”The Canadian team – able-bodied and para – are taking the world by storm.”

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