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LDS Canoe Racer Stands Up for Her Values, Faith as She Heads Toward the Olympics

Kaley Martin, a 19-year-old LDS athlete, is quickly making her way through the ranks of flatwater sprint canoe racing and may soon be one of the first to compete in the first-ever women’s canoe events in the 2020 Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo.

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Kaley was recently accepted on Team USA flatwater sprint canoe for the second time and will be traveling to Seattle, Bulgaria, Oklahoma, and Canada this summer for racing events. Last year she raced in Seattle, Romania, and the Czech Republic with Team USA.  She was also one of two USA athletes selected to attend a special training camp in Prague last year. 

Kaley says that her selection for the camp, as well as her gold medal from the 2017 US Team Trials, stand out among her proudest moments.

Kaley wasn’t interested in canoe racing when the opportunity was first presented to her. “My little sister Allison wanted to try paddling and my parents asked if I’d like to go too. I told them I wasn’t really interested,” she says.

That all changed after Kaley attended her sister’s first race. “I got really excited and asked to try out for the team,” Kaley says. Since she was older than most kids on the team, she had to get special permission from the coach. After a week-long trial period, they allowed her to stay.

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At first, Kaley participated in the sport just for fun, but as her times got faster, her coach Steward Carr pulled her aside and talked about the possibility of having her travel for competitions and suggested she think about the Olympics.

Although Kaley considers herself to be very goal driven, she says she’s “just taking it one race at a time” when it comes to preparing for the Olympics. “I don’t know how far I’ll go, but I’m enjoying the experience.”

Kaley trains hard, spending most of her time in the gym or on the water, and teaches paddling to young athletes to help fund her travels. She also spends a lot of time analyzing her races. Her first international race at the 2016 Pan American Games was a little rocky.

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Kaley teaching paddling.

“I was a disaster!” Kaley said. “The weather was terrible. It was so windy and raining and I really wasn’t used to the conditions. Plus, I had just gotten a different boat and had a tough time controlling it, and here I was on the international stage! I was so worried I would fall out and go swimming, but I didn’t. I managed to cross the finish line and my coach Stewart Carr met me. He shared his story of his first big race and it helped me so much! It made me laugh and I decided from then on I would do everything in my power to be my very best on and off the water.”

Kaley is striving to be her best not just in her sport, but as a member of the Church as well. Throughout the years she’s had plenty of opportunities to share her light and be an example of the believers.

When she joined Team USA, she quickly found that the uniform she was given didn’t match her standards. “I was a bit worried about it and knew that I had to match my C2 partner at the U23 races in Romania.”  Kaley was relieved to discover that her partner also felt uncomfortable with the uniform, and the two of them bought matching shorts that were longer and made them feel more comfortable. “I always practice in modest clothing and try to be a good example,” Kaley says.

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Kaley ahead of her competitors in the middle canoe. 

Another challenge Kaley faces is attending church while traveling. Often she’s in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t have transportation, and is hours away from the nearest ward or branch. “I have to find ways to uplift and feed myself spiritually. I read and ponder my scriptures and pray often. I listen to conference talks online,” she says.

“I believe my faith has guided me to make good decisions as I travel around the world. I could do things that were wrong and nobody would ever know, but I would know, and my Heavenly Father would too,” Kaley says.

During her travels, Kaley has opportunities to share her testimony with others in unique ways. 

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Kaley’s mom Kim Martin says that she’s proud of her daughter’s success as a paddler but is even more proud of her high goals and standards. “She doesn’t waiver in her beliefs and will talk to anyone about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how following Him has made a difference in her life.”

Several of Kaley’s siblings are also canoe racers and have made athletic sacrifices to follow God’s commandments. Her brother Corban was also racing for Team USA as their top dragon boat paddler when he decided to leave for a mission. “His coaches were a little upset,” Kim says. However, she adds, “Corban never hesitated in wanting to go on his mission.”  He served in the Salt Lake City East Mission.

Photos courtesy of Kim Martin
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