This article was originally published on the CBC Sports website.
In his latest Field of Play blog, Scott Russell looks at the journey of 2 top Canadian paddlers
On an early spring morning the muddy waters of 16 Mile Creek in Oakville, Ont., struggle to life. And at the Burloak Canoe Club, the boys in the boats have arrived.
Larry Cain, who won a canoeing gold medal for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, rummages around for the gasoline tanks.
He fires up the tin boat and, as a coach, accompanies kayaker Adam van Koeverden and canoeist Mark Oldershaw on a training session this sunny but frosty morning.
His task involves motoring alongside two accomplished Olympians who have become masters of their respective crafts.
"They have commitment yes," Cain acknowledges. "But there is something special in their physical nature. They are both extremely consistent over time and they both have this freakishly large capacity to welcome hard work."
Oldershaw and van Koeverden have known each other for almost 20 years.
Now as senior athletes approaching their mid-30s, they are setting a course for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and more immediately for the Pan Am Games on home waters this summer.
Each has been on the Olympic podium. Oldershaw became the first of the five members of his family who have competed at the Olympics to win a medal when he took bronze in London in 2012.
Meantime, van Koeverden has made four podium appearances at three successive Games including a gold medal ascent in Athens in 2004.
They couldn't be closer as friends and yet more different as individuals.
"It's a perfect friendship and a perfect partnership," shrugs the stoic Oldershaw who shuns overstatement. "We get to train together but never have to compete against each other. We also love paddling as a lifestyle beyond sport."
The effervescent van Koeverden is always eager to talk.
"I first came here as a 14-year-old and arrived with long hair and riding a skateboard," van Koeverden recalls. "I'd never been in a kayak and the first time I tried it, Mark swung over in his boat and stole my paddle. I had to swim ashore. That was my initiation, I guess. We've been like family ever since."
Both are statuesque physical specimens. The power they can generate with their radically divergent paddles causes each vessel to hurtle through the water with amazing speed.
They become solitary performers who work in complete silence. It's beautiful to watch.
"Canoeing is something so Canadian," says Oldershaw afterwards. "We are so proud of that. I want people to go out in a canoe and say that Canadians are the best canoeists in the world."
This past fall, the two friends paddled 70 km overnight from van Koeverden's cabin in a wilderness part of Algonquin Park to reach Oldershaw's aunt's place in Muskoka cottage country just in time for Thanksgiving supper. They shot rapids, portaged and caught quick naps under the stars.
They are vastly different personalities, who for the better part of two decades, have been chasing a similar dream.
"He generally has a another opinion," says van Koeverden of Oldershaw. "But it's good to have a co-worker who offers a different perspective on things."
For his part, Oldershaw stresses the generosity of his more celebrated comrade.
"He's somebody who totally understands what you're going through. He wants to make everyone around him better."
When all is said and done, the training session over, the two pals wolf down muffins and drink coffee while overlooking the familiar undulations of the creek where they have spent so many hours paddling.
Oldershaw soon rushes off to join his fiance Annamay Pierse, a retired Olympic swimmer, who is now teaching school in the area.
Van Koeverden is heading to Toronto to attend meetings of the Canadian Olympic Committee where he is the leader of the athletes' commission.
They go about the business of their lives in separate orbits. Still, both are somehow connected as throwback athletes who have been united as they follow the path of the paddle in a quintessential Canadian pursuit.
"I came to this club nearly 20 years ago and decided to stay," van Koeverden reckons as he watches his buddy zoom out of the parking lot.
"It's funny how life sticks you with someone and he becomes like your chosen brother."