On the first day of September that truly resembled summer, Lucas Gilpin and Evan Volpini could not wait to get out on the water.
Sure, the past few months were not at all what the teens and their Sudbury Canoe Club paddling teammates envisioned when they committed to the competitive outlet of sprint canoe and kayaking.
Still, the group persevered, rolling with the punches.
"Our races got cancelled, so we had to do everything virtually, sending in our times," said Gilpin, a 15 year old grade ten student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. "We were doing the same amount of practices and stuff, but the competitions are different."
"Getting ready, before the start of practice, is different - but once you are out on the water, there's not much of a difference. You have to clean your boat now, right after practice. We didn't have to do that all last year."
Now in his seventh year with the sprint program, Volpini has a far greater assemblage of previous seasons to draw upon than might be the case for Gilpin, who entered his sophomore year with the team this summer.
"It was definitely a little bit strange," said Volpini. "My winter training camp in Florida got shut down (in March), and that kind of set up the whole year to be kind of odd. We started with home practices with Zoom meetings and then eventually started, at the end of June, getting back out on the water."
"We started the summer program one month late, and we didn't have any (normal) competitions," added SCC head coach Helen Savin. "We couldn't introduce the full picture of our sport for the youngest kids, the newcomers, let's say. It's hard to work without competition, less motivating."
"It's hard, sometimes, to get them to continue to work out, continue to work hard - especially teenagers."
Thankfully, though blessed with vastly different paddling experience, the likes of Gilpin and Volpini remained fully engaged.
"You have to keep training to get better, lifting weights to get stronger, keep practicing your technique," said Gilpin. "There's always room to improve, which is motivation in itself, I think."
While Volpini does not dispute his never-ending search of technical perfection, the fine-tuning that is now required is much more precise. "At my level now, it really is a matter of practicing my technique, all of the time," said the the young man who serves as a role model for the younger paddlers, according to Savin. "There were lots of kilometers of technique paddling."
"At a younger age, you work on technique, all around. But in the past few years, where we had more competitions, we didn't focus on technique as much. We might do more strength training and speed. This year, with no competitions, we had the option of doing a lot of technique."
Just to be clear, when Volpini stresses "a lot", he is not kidding.
"We probably go anywhere from 50% to 70% pace when we do technique paddling, something that we can hold for one or two hours."
His is an example that Gilpin can follow. In his second year with the team, the latter is noticing the refinement in his skills, those that are needed to garner the results he will strive for. "You would have to know the technique to notice it, but if you did, you would see that it (my stroke) is tighter, my speed and strength to each stroke are better," said Gilpin.
"You have to understand the technique, or else you're not going to get as much out of each stroke. It's as simple as that, I suppose."
Where that improvement might typically be evidenced in a standard calendar of events, races across the province, 2020 would bring with it a different measuring stick. "You just try and beat your last time, your personal record," said Gilpin. "We would have people timing us and we would send those times into the CKO (Canoe Kayak Ontario), and they put them all together."
"You really have to focus on your own record, because it's not the same at all. During a normal competition, you can see who is next to you, which makes it more competitive."
Perhaps next year. In the meantime, the work continues.
Savin and her paddlers are hoping for a few more days like Tuesday. They will remain on the water through September and October, before moving to the off-season dryland facet of their annualized training program. And even there, normalcy will be limited, to some extent.
"We have to keep low numbers for our groups when we are practicing inside," said Savin. "Covid is affecting us. We are not inviting new athletes for the year-round program, only our experienced athletes, paddlers who are going to training camp in March and who must have a winter program to be ready for early season competition."
"But we cannot survive without fresh blood. We will need enrollment numbers."
The Sudbury Canoe Club will need more youngsters willing to join the likes of Lucas Gilpin and Evan Volpini, practicing their paddling on the city jewel that is Ramsey Lake, basking in the glow of a glorious fall day.