Lina Augaitis' Race to World Championship Gold
Photos courtesy of the Canadian SUP Team
When Lina Augaitis got the news that she was included on the Canadian SUP Team for the 2016 ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championships, her enthusiasm was tempered by some competing emotions. Like the guilt of leaving her baby boy, Tav, and husband, Andrew, for 12 days to travel from their home in Canada to Fiji. And the anxiety of having to ask her boss for the time off from teaching.
Luckily for Lina, Andrew encouraged her to seize the opportunity, and the principal and school board at Lina's school were equally supportive. Suddenly, November rolled around and it was time to switch roles from teacher, mother and wife to elite athlete. Cue a three-flight journey across the Pacific to compete against the world's best SUP racers following a season that, Yukon River Quest aside, allowed very little racing and only a few 20- to 40-minute training sessions each week.
Going into the ISAs, Lina thought her best chance for her fourth world championship medal was in either the technical event or the distance race, in which she'd claimed gold in 2014. But her body had other ideas. "I had the best start I could hope for in the distance race and was leading for quite a while, but at a certain point I couldn't maintain my speed," she said. "As people started passing me I tried to go faster but just couldn't do it." She ended up in ninth overall, to go with the fifth place she'd earned earlier in the week on the technical course.
With just one individual race to go, Lina's spirit was flagging. As usual, it was a conversation with her husband that helped her put things in perspective. When they talked by Skype he told her that she was lucky to be in Fiji competing for her country, so she may as well give it her all in the final event. Another thing that helped Lina overcome her technical and distance race disappointments was the boost she received from her paddling students. "Our juniors all sent me nice notes and that helped lift my spirits," Lina said. "I hope that seeing me compete at this level helps inspires them to do it, too."
Even though Lina had no idea what to expect from her body or her competitors in the sprint race, she at least felt better about continuing. She also reached into her past and recalled the two times that she was crowned Fastest Paddler on Earth after winning a similar sprint at Lost Mills in Germany back in 2014 and 2015. "I knew that I was capable of doing well in this kind of race because I'd done if before," Lina said.
This confidence proved to be well founded, as she breezed through her heat to qualify for the final. During this second race, Lina recalls being aware of the paddlers next to her in her peripheral vision, but as she was unable to see exactly whether she was behind or ahead of them she just kept pushing. "In those last few meters the result comes down to who maintains their speed, who drops off and who surges. I could feel the lactic acid building up but I just tried to keep going until just after the finish line." For a few seconds, all Lina could hear was people cheering and she had no idea who'd won. It was only after the results were announced that she realized she had claimed her third world title.
While some of Lina's fellow racers got to stay on in Fiji to paddle and surf for a few more days, there was no such luxury for Lina, who had to be back at work 36 hours later. As soon as the closing ceremony was over, she left for the airport and three more flights back home. Arriving exhausted after a full day of traveling, Lina was reunited with Andrew and Tav. Whatever hardware she'd earned at the world championships, being back with her family was the biggest reward any athlete/mom/wife could ask for. -Phil White
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