Aged 72 and a self-confessed kayaking addict with no intention of stopping
Lee Valley White Water Centre
As Pam Phillips was tackling the Olympic Standard Competition Course with her paddling buddy, a thought occurred to her. She realised the age gap between them was 56 years. “Paddling brings the generations together,” she says. “We compete against our own anxieties, our own capabilities. We’re there to support each other.”
Back when it was announced that Lee Valley White Water Centre would be a London 2012 host venue Pam (pictured above) thought the closest she would ever get to it was walking past it with her dog.
She even took a photo of the towering course created for the world class athletes and sent it to friends, saying “rather them than me!”
Until that point, Pam had never been in a kayak or on water and did not plan to start in her seventh decade. But her interest was piqued when the Games got underway and she and her husband watched one of the canoe slalom events.
In 2015, Pam received an invitation to introductory canoeing lessons as part of a programme which was part funded by the Authority in collaboration with Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign which encouraged more women and girls to get involved in sport.
She has been a regular at the centre, paddling up to four hours a week, and honing her skills further on paddling trips to rivers across England, Scotland and Wales.
The connection she has built with fellow paddlers has been a major factor in her progress. She passed the assessment to paddle on the Olympic Course two weeks before her 70th birthday. “It was all about the people,” she says. “I’d been paddling with a regular group of paddle buddies who had progressed. I wanted to be out there on the big course with them.”
Pam was keen to share her passion for kayaking with others, and it was not long before she was encouraging her fellow Waltham Abbey u3a (University of the Third Age) members to have a go.
Pam was helped by the Authority’s grant scheme, which provided funding towards a course of structured lessons for u3a members from across Hertfordshire and Essex.
Three years later and the u3a courses are still going strong and a handful of u3a members have gone on to join Lee Valley Paddlesports Club to attend further training and paddle the Legacy Loop.