Canoe athlete Aleksandra Stach has already made her Olympic Games debut in Tokyo, and what’s coming next, is the European Games in Kraków, where she lives and studies at the local University of Physical Education. The young athlete combines the world of competitive sports with her daytime studies, and stresses that although it is extremely difficult, it gives her a reason to be prooud.
It would seem that canoe slalom is typically a summer sport, but you guys have been in training since the beginning of the year. What do winter preparations actually look like?
We are currently staying at a training camp in Zakopane. The year often begins with a camp, where we already work on getting in the best possible shape for the summer. Actually, the whole February means trainings in warm countries, with the best access to water. This year we are going to the United Arab Emirates, and in March to France. We will practice on so-called heavy water, that is, technically and strength demanding. We will treat it as a form of pre-season unleashing. In winter there are always a lot of training camps, workouts and hard work, the hardest in the whole season.
The beginning of the year is also a time for summaries, which, as we heard, you enjoy. How would you sum up this past season?
I always set some goals for myself at the beginning of the year, and then during the season I verify them. Last year, ending at seventh place at the ICF World Cup in Kraków, Poland, at home, was an important success for me. So was seventh place at the World Junior Championships. This is the performance that makes me happy, and shows that I am capable of fighting for top positions on the international stage.
And what is ahead of you? Do you have any specific goals?
This is my last year in the junior category, under 23, and I would like to perform at my best in it. However, for now I’m focusing on the training I have to do. On these next few days. This kind of approach helps me a lot with becoming as good, as I want to be. Before the competition, in the back of my mind I always have some goals that I would like to achieve, but I also realize that I’m not alone at the race, and I have no influence on how other athletes will perform. I can only work on myself. And sometimes I’m not on top, and yet I’m satisfied with myself. Slalom canoeing is a difficult sport, I would say unquantifiable. We can’t compare ourselves to our achievements. Each track is different and have different challenges. That’s why I shy away from assuming specific results for myself, I rather place importance on how I will present myself, and how I will achieve the goals at the races.
You have the 2023 European Games ahead of you in Kraków, which is an important place for you. Is this a special event for you?
It’s a race “at home”, on my track, and it’s very important for me. People close to me, my friends and family will be able to support me, come to the race and participate in the Games as fans. In addition, the event takes place in Poland, which adds a special meaning for me.
At the European Games we will see, among other things, extreme kayaking, not the most popular variety of slalom canoeing. Could you tell us more about it?
It’s a competition in which we compete directly, in this knockout part we compete four people at a time. Everyone at once jumps into the water from the ramp, which is 3-4 meters above the water level. It is necessary to reach the finish line as quickly as possible, and on the track in the right way swim past the balloons above the water, and perform an “Eskimo”, that is, a flip into the water and rise to the surface. There are also some scuffles, as this is a competition that brings a lot of excitement and emotions at the highest level, for both fans and the competitors themselves.
You are not only a professional athlete, but also a student. Isn’t it hard to combine studies with practicing sports at such a level?
I’m in my final year at the University of Physical Education in Kraków. When I decided to study full-time, many people told me that I wouldn’t be able to combine this with competitive training. However, thanks to the favor of the university, as well as various programmes for athletes, I am able to combine all this, often attending classes remotely, sometimes from the other side of the world. The fact that I manage to combine sports and studying, to lead such a two-track career, is a source of pride for me.
Is there any time left for something other than sports or studying?
Not much, I have to admit. However, I make sure that in October, when we have a few weeks off, I use this time to take care of my mental health. To unwind a bit after the season. Anyway, on a daily basis I try to find some time for my family and friends, to maintain that much-needed balance.
And do you have any hobbies?
During training camps, I read a lot, and while if I’m at home I really enjoy household chores as cooking or gardening, and especially mowing the grass, which I actually love. So, if anyone has any lawns in the Kraków area, I recommend myself (laughs).
You wrote on social media that you attended concerts. As I understand – as a fan, not a singer?
Yes. Unfortunately, I don’t have musical skills, so I didn’t push this kind of career. I focused on sports instead, and thanks to me not singing, many people’s ears are saved.
But maybe someday you will sing our national anthem on the podium?
Oh yes, that I definitely could do!