The Olympic kayak champion from Oakville, Ont., achieved that special moment of perfection by winning his first world championship gold in the men’s K-1 1,000 metres in Szeged, Hungary, last August.
It was the race the 30-year-old dreamed of winning since he was 16, and a moment that reminded him of his gold medal triumph in the K-1500-metre event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
While he credits his development as an Olympic athlete to Oakville’s Burloak Canoe Club, where he trained in his youth, camp was where he first got his feet wet in kayaking at age 10, and where he fostered a love for nature and healthy living and gained valuable life skills.
"I think camp was really good for me—socially, environmentally and from a leadership perspective," he says in an interview with Our Kids. “When I look back on the summers of my youth at camp, they were a very important formative part of my development as a young person.”
As the kid with long hair and an acoustic guitar strapped on his back, he enjoyed hiking, campfire songs, canoeing, and outdoor leadership games and activities.
For a Grade 8 week-long graduation trip, his entire class went to Camp Tanamakoon, an all-girls summer camp in Algonquin Park that has a school program open to both boys and girls in the spring and fall. He has such fond memories of camp that since he became an Olympic star, he has returned there to meet campers and do kayaking demonstrations.
Camp director Patti Thom says he was "so emotional" talking to campers about the positive impact camp had on him, such as the counsellor who taught him to be true to himself. He also shared what was then a glimpse into the future: He won his first kayak race as a preteen during the camp’s Olympics day.
But it was about more than just winning.
“Camp was enjoyable and was an awesome part of my youth,” says van Koeverden, who started training at the Burloak Canoe Club at age 13 after years at camp. "The main goal should always be just enjoyment.... I think that’s the reason why I was able to become very competitive, because I had my fun, I had some skills and I was prepared to take on a new challenge."