Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Olympian Mike Dawson gives back to his sport

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Olympian Mike Dawson with next generation of paddlers at the Waimarino Adventure Park. Photo: Andrew Warner.
Olympian Mike Dawson with next generation of paddlers at the Waimarino Adventure Park. Photo: Andrew Warner.

The 23 young paddlers who attended Saturday's Have a Go Kayaking session on the Wairoa River got an unexpected surprise.

They were joined by Olympic kayaker Mike Dawson who took the opportunity to inspire the next generation of paddlers before he flew out to Europe yesterday.

Dawson, 29, who finished 10th in the K1 Slalom in Rio, was happy to help
out Rob Sperling from Tauranga Boys' College, who first introduced Dawson to the sport.

"Rob is a pretty key player in kicking my career off and he asked me to come out to inspire a few of the kids here," Dawson said.

"It is something I love to do so made some time for it in what has been a chaotic time for us since Rio.

"It is nice to give something back."

Sperling, who organised the session off Waimarino Adventure Park with Anita Taylor from Tauranga Girls' College, says as an old boy Dawson has always been such a great role model for the students.

"He drops everything to come and help me out whenever I ask.

"As the teacher in charge of kayaking at Tauranga Boys' College I need world-class coaches, as our school is 17-times national champion school and many of our paddlers end up competing all around the world.

"I personally think Mike deserves more credit for what he has done for the profile of our sport."

Dawson went into the Rio Olympics ranked 42nd in the world but after a sizzling run in the semifinals, made it into the final 10 to paddle for the medals down the tricky, fast-flowing rapids of the slalom course.

He finished 10th to beat his 15th placing at the London Olympics.

While he may not have won a medal his efforts in feeding homeless people in Rio is worthy of any gold medal.

He spent 10 weeks preparing in Rio and became aware of the chronic social problems.

So he paid for food himself and along with local kayaker Pepe Goncalves delivered food and heard the stories of many people living on the streets.

"We had a lot of time in Rio and got a bit of a connection with the city," Dawson said.

"I noticed a lot of homeless there and it is not like New Zealand where there is some back-up with the social system and people looking out for people.

"It's a pretty harsh world there and lots of young kids living on the street and it hits you pretty hard when you see it.

"We did something small but just wanted to show we actually care and were not just coming to Rio to use the Olympics and get out of there.

"We wanted to give something back."

Dawson grew up paddling the Wairoa River with Luuka Jones, who caused a major upset by winning a silver medal in Rio in the women's K1 Slalom.

"I am still buzzing about it. I am not a really emotional guy but there were tears welling up in my eyes when I realised Luuka was going to have a medal.

"It meant a lot because we both started here. I have seen her since she was 10 or 11-years-old, just battling away and having some failures and just keeping ongoing.

"When you have been involved in that it is amazing to be able to share at the elation she had in the finish line.

"It shows Kiwis can do it on the world stage when you put in the effort and the time and are determined.

"Very cool to see."

Dawson is renowned for his extreme paddling in some of the world's less known spots, particularly in Africa.

Later this year he is off to Pakistan to paddle the Indus River, the biggest river on the western side of the subcontinent.

"It is an awesome opportunity to experience a culture that gets a lot of bad publicity and a place that people probably wouldn't put on their hit list to go and see."

Dawson is an ambassador for the $100,000 Whitewater XL to be held in November at the world-class Vector Wero white water course in south Auckland.

"It is an amazing opportunity to have that $40m facility on our doorstep," he said.

"For both Luuka Jones and myself it's a massive incentive to keep going to Tokyo (Olympics) because it is such an awesome place to train. It means we don't have to travel overseas.

"And then to have a race that is basically the biggest money race in the world on that course in New Zealand in Auckland is going to attract the world's best.

"It is going to be a great weekend so I encourage everyone to get up there and check it out."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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