Matt Hamilton is a lucky guy. If you ask him, he will probably tell you that living in Foresters Falls on the banks of the Ottawa River and being able to go out almost everyday to do what he loves is what makes him lucky. If you ask me however, I will tell you his luck started a long time ago when he was probably not fully aware of it. He is the classic case the kid who’s love and access to sport and recreation sprouted and was made possible by the involvement and dedication of parents.
“I went to a YMCA Summer camp in Haliburton ON, Camp Wanakita and they had a kayaking program. At 8 years old, we used to try all the water sports; canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, sailing. I took kayaking and canoeing fairly quickly and quite enjoyed it.”
Matt was hooked. He was still young when he learned how to roll and joined the Hamilton Whitewater Club which was quite involved in the slalom scene. That lead him into racing and mostly kayak racing, teaching him how to go fast and efficiently down rivers. Luckily for him, his mother was willing to take him around so he could paddle often.
“She saw that I enjoyed it and made sure that I got there. Whether it was driving me from Hamilton to Mindon on the Gull River and just dropping me off there for a week end because nobody else had room in their car to get me there.”
That meant a lot for the young highly energetic kid he was. Kayaking provided his summer outlet and in the winter, he would be on the mountain skiing. He was only 13 when he discovered the Ottawa River, the next thing that would change his life. A local truck driver he knew and him would make the six hour drive on friday to go and spend the week end there. They would hang out a a local raft company on the Quebec side and they would follow the raft trips down the river. There, Matt got his love and knowledge of the Ottawa river and years later he got to put them to good use when he became a guide himself.
“In 1997, I started working full time for summer work at River Run. That’s when the freestyle bug got ignited with Billy Harris, who was living in the next cabin over from me and wired very similar to me. We’d raft guide all day and then go paddle until it was dark. Both of us then moved on to being members of the Canadian Freestyle team.”
Being a recognized athlete gave Matt so many opportunities. Wether is was through travel for competitions or being able to go paddle or train on great rivers abroad. And years after, his passion hasn’t faded. Now, Matt is a Paramedic and enjoys being able to go on the river and let go of some steam. In a profession where the stress is high and where staff often suffer from it, it is often essential to have an outlet.
“Being able to come home and go out and paddle has been great. When I’m on the river, anything that happened at work for whatever reason is just not in my head anymore. As you’re going down the river, you have to be reacting to what’s happening but you also have to have a plan as to where you’re going. It keeps your brain very focused. There is no room for much else. I find that after paddling, I can focus more to get life done.”
And getting life done, Matt is. He is here and everywhere when time comes to be involved. Over the years, he has participated and volunteered in numerous events. More recently, he has picked up a new interest in announcing for races and competitions. He also is the main instigator of the Movember race, a fundraiser kayak race down the Ottawa River in support of men’s health who’s going into it’s fifth year. Most of all though, Matt is helping the younger generation get on the river. He drives them to the river, paddles with them, teaching them at the same time and sometimes even gives them a place to stay. His main motivation is to help making kayaking accessible for them, the way his mother did for him.
“It’s great seing young people have these little success moments, share and feel the same passion you do for a sport. It’s also a little bit selfish too as I was running out of friends to paddle with because all my friends are getting old and having kids and not getting as much time to paddle as I am. The young kids are kind of keeping me young. Right now they are chasing me down the river but soon I’ll have to be chasing after them.”
Chasing after them while they chase their dream, that’s a great purpose. One that was made possible by a supporting mother that once believed her son needed to go out and play. That play has turned into a passion and brought Matt to great places like the Slave River in the Northwest Territories or to Costa Rica and continues to do so. Matt secured a spot on the Canadian Freestyle Team this summer and will be representing Canada during the World Freestyle Championship held in Brazil next year. Not to bad for a YMCA summer camp!