Andreea Ghizila trains at Lake Lanier in Georgia before the United States Team trials. Courtesy of Gabriel Ghizila

Ghizila powers her way to junior sprint world canoe championships

Kirkland’s Andreea Ghizila is always on the move.

Last week, she was canoeing along the Sammamish River in Bothell. Tomorrow, the 16-year-old sprint competitor will hit the water more than 5,000 miles away at the International Canoe Federation Junior Canoe Sprint World Championships in Pitesti, Romania. The premier U18 event runs through Sunday.

The Juanita High junior-to-be sports a 4.0 grade-point average and is equally focused in the classroom and on the water, where she paddles her canoe in a kneeling position.

“She’s really driven and is very consistent. She rarely misses a practice and (she’s) taken the steps she needs to be a pretty great paddler,” said coach Dan Henderson, who has trained Ghizila for three years with the Cascade Canoe & Kayak Racing team. The squad practices at Blue Heron Landing Marina in Bothell.

“She has really good motor skills. She can think about something and figure out how to move,” added Henderson, noting that he knew Ghizila was a special canoeist from the start.

Joanna Crocker, a master canoeist who roomed with Ghizila at the 2016 nationals in Oklahoma City, added about the teen: “She’s the real deal. She’s an angel.”

If something goes awry on the water, Ghizila assesses the situation and moves forward in a positive manner, Crocker said.

At last year’s nationals, Ghizila garnered six gold medals and three silvers in C-1 (solo) and C-2 (partners) 200- and 500-meter races.

At this year’s United States Team trials in Gainesville, Fla., Ghizila notched two firsts and four seconds in senior and junior 200- and 500-meter C-1 races. She earned personal bests in the 500 meters in 2 minutes, 23.124 seconds and in the 200 meters in 54.128 seconds.

Ghizila will team up with Seattle 18-year-old Azusa Murphy in C-2 200- and 500-meter events in Romania. Ghizila trained with Murphy for the last month, including some workouts at the USA Canoe/Kayak camp from July 8-21 in Bothell.

Ghizila said she and Murphy were feeling good heading into the championships and they’re ready to make an impact.

“We have to not let it get to our heads,” said Ghizila, noting that international canoeists don’t expect much from their American competitors.

However, Ghizila and her then-partner Olivia Crocker (no relation to Joanna) cranked up their mental and physical gauges to blast from last place to a third-place bronze-medal finish at last year’s Olympic Hopes Regatta in Hungary.

It was a crucial moment in Ghizila’s canoeing career.

“Olivia said, ‘We can do this,’ and then we pushed ourselves really hard,” said Ghizila, noting that athletes’ arms, shoulders, upper back, core, legs and hips all play critical roles in moving and steering a canoe to a successful ride. Canoes normally hit a top speed of about seven mph during races.

Ghizila said it’s stressful and painful, but also cool because of the success that awaits at the finish line. In her best races, she added that “everything clicks together, so the race is over by the time you’ve even thought about anything.”

She has paddled more than 1,800 miles during the past year. During the summer, her practice schedule includes a mixture of canoeing, weight training and running for about 30 hours a week; during the school year, she tackles that program for about 23 hours a week.

Ghizila’s goal is to qualify for the United States women’s canoe team in the 2020 Olympics and show the world that America has a wealth of talented canoeists.

About three years ago, Ghizila was just getting her feet wet in the canoeing realm. The former competitive cross-country skier’s coach had a daughter in Henderson’s class in Renton and recommended the skier give canoeing a shot.

“I loved the beginner class. It was some of the best weeks of my life. It was challenging and exciting,” Ghizila said about battling waves on the water in Renton.

She liked the sport so much that she followed Henderson to his current spot in Bothell.

“It’s just so different. I have to explain it every day to somebody,” she said. “Even my close friends, it took them a long time to figure out that I’m not rowing and I’m not doing the recreational canoe that you do with your grandma, or the recreational kayak or that kind of stuff you can do with your family.”

Ghizila said she enjoys putting her body and mind to the test each time out and hopes to inspire others to give canoeing a go as well.

For those interested in canoeing and kayaking, Henderson will hold a beginner class Aug. 8 for participants starting from ages 10-13. Visit www.cckrt.org.

Andreea Ghizila competes in a race in Gig Harbor. Courtesy of Gabriel Ghizila

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