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28th Jun, 2022

CANOEING - Rugby's Kimberley Woods admits journey to top of sport has not been smooth

Aaron Sutcliffe 13th May, 2022 Updated: 16th May, 2022

RUGBY’s Kimberley Woods is the first to admit her journey to the top of canoe slalom has not been a smooth one.

The 26-year-old reached the C1 final on her Olympic debut and continues to show mental strength worthy of a place at the summit of the sport.

Woods bounced back from Olympic heartbreak to claim K1 bronze at the World Championships last September, despite being involved in a car crash just days before the competition.

She said: “There was definitely more from me that I could have given at the Olympics.

“I made a final and it was a great achievement but to come 10th with one of the worst runs I have ever done in my life was not great, especially on the stage it was at.

“I didn’t feel quite myself and it never felt like I got into a rhythm for what could bring the best out of me.

“But there was a lot of learning from that and especially going into the world championships after Tokyo where I won a bronze medal, which was my best result so far.”

The crash left Woods temporarily unable to walk but the 26-year-old was back in the boat a week later to produce her best ever individual result on the world stage.

She said: “It’s funny because the Worlds was very unprepared compared to Tokyo. And being in a car crash the week before doesn’t help, so it was almost like my perspective changed.

“I’m quite determined and I deal quite well with set-backs. When I was on the start line it was more that I’m glad I’m here and that was it. I just went and enjoyed it.

“I was just grateful for being in the boat and being alive.”

Woods has struggled with her mental health throughout her career after she injured her ACL in 2015 and began to suffer from feelings of loneliness.

She said: “It’s very important for me to be open and keep talking about it as part of my journey and I just hope that from me doing it, it helps other people have the courage to do the same.

“You can be physically prepared and everything, which I was at the Olympics, but my mind just wasn’t quite there and it could be make or break.”

But a pivotal conversation with her coach Craig Norris was the first step in the mental health advocate’s journey to recovery.

She said: “I remember being across the table from him when we were actually just sitting next to each other but in that moment in that time it felt like a really long table.

“But that got me into seeking help from other people and it’s been an ongoing thing of topping up the toolbox as such and I did that before the Olympics.

“I’m glad I did reach out because it showed that I’m human and that we’re all human.”

British Canoeing is the National Governing Body for paddlesports in the UK. If you’ve been inspired by Kimberley and want to try paddling, visit the Go Paddling website https://gopaddling.info

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