Two Okanagan women set to make waves on the international
paddling scene this summer in Australia.
Life changed for Leanne Stanley when the cute guy next to her in grade 11 chemistry class invited her to go paddling. “You’re big and strong. You should try it,” he said. So, at the age of 17, Leanne stepped into a 12-person canoe on Toronto’s Humber river for her first paddling adventure. “I felt in control of my life for the first time.”
Her early years had been spent following her older brother. “Family time focused on his hockey career.” Leanne also played hockey through high school and university years while completing a Bachelor of Science at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, but she quit hockey in 2016. Too many concussions, she says. “Paddling has helped me become who I am today. It gave me the confidence to do something on my own and succeed at it too.”
Now, 37 and one of only three coaches for the National Outrigger program, Leanne competes in and coaches five different types of paddling, spending about 80 per cent of her paddling time coaching, the remaining 20 per cent training and racing.
She is passionate about her day job as a Resource Teacher at Rutland and Ecole KLO Middle Schools, but somehow still fits in 12 hours a week, 12 months of the year, training on the water and 5 hours a week dry land training which includes weight training, cross country skiing, yoga and running.
“My favourite time to train is any time the winds are up,” she says.
“Great for racing on the ocean.”
Leanne started out in a marathon canoe in 1998, competing at the Provincial, National and US National levels. Then in 2005, while studying for her Bachelor of Education at Nipissing University, she joined a Toronto outrigger club, paddling an OC6, an outrigger canoe powered by a six-person team. Three years later, she competed with Team Canada at the World Championships. Also introduced to Dragon Boating during those years, she helped found a festival in her hometown of Parry Sound, Ontario. After she was recruited to the Premiere Women’s National team she competed in China, the Czech Republic, and the United States.
As if that isn’t enough to keep her busy, in the past five years she has added Stand Up Paddle racing to her schedule. And most recently surfski, a long narrow lightweight craft similar to a kayak with an open sit on top cockpit, completes her personal paddling pentathlon.
Leanne believes her greatest success to date is exposing Kelowna women to paddling at the World level and helping them to achieve their potential. “In 2008 there was a core group of paddlers here in Kelowna, now the Kelowna Paddle Centre has a membership of more than 300,” she says. “The paddling community is a great group of people, no matter where you go. We have fun sharing stories and constantly planning ways to make the sport better.”