Just ten months after he first sat in a kayak, Corbin Hart completed the first chapter of his inspirational journey by qualifying a New Zealand boat in the KL3 200m for the Tokyo Paralympics in Szeged, Hungary yesterday.
Competing at the ICF Canoe-Kayak Sprint and Paracanoe World Cup, Corbin’s first ever international regatta and just the third competition of his fledgling career, the 26-year-old Kiwi finished seventh in the A Final.
Making a solid start, he quickly established a nice rhythm in a highly-competitive race. Digging deep, he finished strongly overhauling Hungary’s Erik Kiss with his final stroke to grab seventh in 43.78 – to secure a Paralympic berth for his country.
World and Paralympic champion Serhii Yemelianov of Ukraine was an impressive winner in 40.44.
“That was the hardest thing ever but the most rewarding,” says Corbin, who lives in Red Beach on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
“Nothing quite like the music to my ears of being told that you have qualified for Tokyo. I still can’t quite believe it.
“I see what everyone means by enjoy the moment because now it’s all done.
“The experience of the first time will never quite be the same. It’s just so cool.”
His dramatic rise in the sport has been nothing short of remarkable. In December, 2019 Corbin lost his right leg in an civil roading accident at work, however, possessing a positive have-a-go attitude the former surf lifesaving competitor decided to take up kayaking in July last year.
Within three months he made his competitive debut at Blue Lake 1 and in December last year impressed at the Blue Lake 2 regatta in Rotorua, clocking a slick time of 39.69 in the heats of the men’s K1 200m.
Coached by Gavin Elmiger out of the North Shore Canoe Club he has continued to make progress.
Recent testing suggested he had the capability to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic and so Canoe Racing NZ granted him the opportunity to compete his one and only opportunity to help qualify a boat.
Despite the tension of competing internationally for the first time, he finished second in his open round heat on Thursday before following this up 90 minutes later by placing third in his semi-final to advance to the final as the sixth fastest.
“Corbin’s time in the sport so far has been remarkable,” says CRNZ CEO Tom Ashley. “Early in 2020, Caitlin Ryan, the four-time World Championship medallist, sent me a message about Corbin, saying that a friend of hers had just lost his leg and was keen to give paddling a go. We suggested as a first step that he meet Gavin at North Shore and learn through the club program.
“He hasn’t looked back and has now achieved the milestone of Paralympic qualification. We can’t wait to see his paddling career unfold.
“CRNZ would also like to acknowledge Teesh Saunders, who has been travelling with Corbin. Teesh has travelled to a number of events overseas as a supporter of the NZ team and as a close friend of Kurtis and Kayla Imrie. Despite not having met Corbin, she jumped at his invitation to travel to Hungary and contributed significantly to the planning and ultimate success of his trip. What a fantastic contribution to this amazing story,” says Tom.
“Throughout the process of his selection to travel overseas, with all of the current health and safety restrictions, Corbin’s been amazing to work with – his positive, collaborative approach are an example to everyone.”
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