Olympic Bound: Eric Hurd to Compete in London for the USA

In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to interview heads of state, royalty, titans of industry and world-class athletes. So what’s the deal with the butterflies in my stomach prior to a Skype call with Eric Hurd? He’s a canoeist and kayaker at the top of his game – not unlike many others I’ve interviewed without my stomach churning. Here’s the difference:

Eric Hurd is an Olympian.

An Olympian. Even the word is pure magic. Compete for dominance or money at any other event, but compete at the Olympics Games for the love of sport and its ability to transcend barriers. Something about the Olympics lifts people to accomplish inhuman feats. The heights of athleticism may bring universal goose bumps, but it’s the feats of unbridled compassion and joy that flood our otherwise practical hearts with hope. The Olympics are the shared dream that fueled all of our childhood imaginations: a dream that most of us give up on before ever really trying. For the few who tenaciously hold onto the dream, they earn the privilege to be call an Olympian.

Eric Hurd has earned that distinction with a spot on the Olympic Canoe and Kayak Team. He is 26 and will compete at the London Olympic Games in the double canoe (C2) with Jeff Larimer. Congratulations, Eric and Jeff! We are so proud of you.

When he’s out of the boat, Eric’s quite the Renaissance man. As his schedule allows, he’s working toward an associate degree back home in North Carolina. He’s also planning a wedding to his lovely fiancée this fall; holding down a job that allows him ample time to train; learning how to blacksmith and weld; and filling the rest of his time expanding his interest in sustainable living. But let’s not fool ourselves. At the moment, Eric is in his boat training for the London Olympic Games.

Currently training in Ivrea, Italy, Eric was gracious enough to share some time with Ibex.

Ibex Question (IQ): Congratulations on making the US Team! How did it feel when your heard the news?
Eric Hurd (EH): Really surreal. It has been a long selection process. We are just glad it’s over and in our favor. Now we can turn all of our focus and training directly to performing at the London Olympic venue during the Games.

IQ: What are you most looking forward to in your Olympic experience?
EH: First, I would have to say racing in front of such a large crowd…will be pretty humbling. Second, meeting all the other great athletes from other sports and sharing stories with them.

IQ: So, you’re a fan, too. If you have the opportunity, which events are you excited to attend as spectator?
EH: I am truly excited to watch other events as a spectator – to be able to relax and just watch. I have not given any thought to particular events we will just have to see what tickets are available when the time comes.

IQ: Let’s talk about your event. You’ll be competing in the double canoe (C2) with Jeff Larimer. Can you explain C2 – for those who may not be familiar?
EH: C2 is a two-person canoe where we sit on our knees and use a single bladed canoe paddle. We sit aligned with one another just a few inches apart. I paddle on the left side of the boat and Jeff paddles on the right. The object of the slalom race is to navigate gates over a whitewater river [editor note: gates are suspended and the competitors go through them in both upstream and downstream directions]. The fastest time to the bottom wins.

IQ: When watching the event, what should spectators keep an eye out for?
EH: There is a two-second penalty given to the racer if heshe touches a single gate with any part of themselves or their equipment. A 50-second penalty (is enforced) if a racer misses a single gate entirely. There are typically 18-24 gates, and our races last between 90-120 seconds. The name of the game is to be “fast and clean.”

[Editor’s note: Let’s blow the ratings up on the paddling comps this year! Mark your calendars for Qualifiers on July 30 (8:30am EDT) and Semis and Finals on August 2 (time TBD). Events will be broadcast on TV, plus live streamed online. All the details are below, or click these links for online coverage and local TV listings.]

IQ: How do you mentally prepare for such an important event?
EH: Same as I would with any other event: visualize my race run down to every stroke; learn the water at the venue; and learn every possible move as best you can. Try to reduce negative thoughts and external distractions that do not relate to the moment and task you are currently in. This goes both for training and during the race run.

I have felt really good and confident about our team since we started paddling as a team in C2 (late fall, 2010). Jeff and I work really well together and our training and racing are firing on all cylinders at the moment. I could not be more happy and confident leading into the Olympics!

IQ: In these last few weeks building up, how do you physically prepare?
EH: All of the strength and endurance training has been done. Now during these last few weeks we will have a few hard training blocks where we will be focused on maintaining all of those fitness levels. We will also be working on technique in the gates at the venue, and most importantly – resting. So come race day we will be tip top shape and ready to fire out of the start gate.

IQ: Your nickname is “Butter.” Is there a John Belushi little-chocolate-donut story in there? How did you earn the name?
EH: I believe it was spring 1999. I was at…a training camp in Washington DC on the Potomac River, with a team of all mixed ages. I was the youngest, so naturally I was the one to get the dares and pranks. One evening, while at a steak restaurant, [my teammates bet that I couldn’t] eat all the butter that came with the bread appetizer. Of course, looking up to the older athletes, I ate it all – without thinking twice. It was just one of those nicknames that stuck. It fully solidified on a world level later that summer. At the Junior World Championships in Poland, I had just [secured] 15th place in the world for “18-and-under” category. I was 13.  My coach came over to me and said, “I guess you gotta be Butter, because you are on a roll.”

IQ: Is there one person in particular who has been an inspiration to you?
EH: I have the utmost respect for anyone who has dedicated their life to be the very best – at their goals and dreams. At an elite level it takes certain dedication that is ingrained deep within us and requires more sacrifices than gains to accomplish, in my opinion. I respect my father the most because of his selfless support of my athletic career. And in doing so, I think he has taught me the true meaning of life. Thanks Dad!

IQ: Your quote on the Team USA site is “Some run a race to see who’s fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” With a quote like that, how do you define courage (or guts)?
EH: It’s actually a Steve Prefontaine quote. From an early age, I admired his over all view that hard work and believing in yourself are the main factors in becoming great at your dreams. [With relation] to the quote: I put everything on the table when I race – every ounce of energy, effort and pain. If someone beats my time, they will have to try to push harder and have given more effort than me. When I cross the finish line, win or lose, I know I gave it everything I had – with no regrets.

IQ: Sorry to throw in a shameless Ibex promotional question, but perhaps you can shed some light on wool + water equation. What do you like about Merino wool for paddling?
EH: Oddly enough, it’s the smell of wool when it is wet, it helps me to relax and enter into my zone on the river. (I know it sounds a bit quirky but the brain has an amazing way of relating smells and taste to particular places and feelings and wool is one of mine.) I could go on all day. I am truly a wool fanatic. I would say the most important factors in Ibex wool garments are the outstanding moisture wicking and temperature control for hot and cold weather, highly reduced lingering odor in clothing, lightweight, durable and the best sustainable natural fiber in the world! Thanks Ibex!

[Editor’s note: Ah, thanks right back at you, Eric. And btw, we’re not judging the whole wet wool smell thing. We’re of the same tribe.]

IQ: Any final thoughts?
EH: I would love to thank my family, friends and Covenant Village, who have been there with me during my journey. Thank you all for your humble support!

IQ: Eric Hurd is an Olympian – in every sense of the word. Thank you, Eric, for proving my Olympic theory that a purity of spirit, mixed with an unimaginable amount of hard work, can still prevail. Now get back to training and go kick some ass for the red, white and blue!


Watch Eric and Jeff race for the gold:
July 30, 2012: Qualifying Rounds, 8:30am EDT
August 2, 2012: Semis and Finals, time TBD
Live stream online or on television

Eric was kind enough to give a shout out to his sponsors (in his words):
Ibex who provides me with a highly functional, 100% wool wardrobe – on and off the water. www.Ibex.com
NRS who provides me with the best whitewater kayaking and canoeing gear on the market. www.nrsweb.com
Mitchell Paddles – The source for the finest wooden and composite canoe and kayak paddles.  www.mitchellpaddles.com