Just a few weeks after Commencement, Cameron Jaeger and Liam Jansen are already putting skills they learned at Northland to work—on a national stage. The two 2023 outdoor education grads just won gold in the men’s tandem event at the 2023 North American Whitewater Open Canoe Slalom Championships.
Liam and Cam first learned whitewater canoeing as sophomores in the outdoor education program’s Outdoor Leadership Immersion Semester. Last May, they both participated in OED 446: Wilderness Instructor Training, where they further refined their whitewater canoeing and swiftwater rescue skills before completing a technical whitewater canoe expedition in northern Maine. This May, they both participated in OED 409: Paddling Instructor Development, where they spent twenty-two days on the Wolf River improving their skills in both whitewater canoeing and teaching. The course culminated in a “final exam” where the students instructed a two-day American Canoe Association “Essentials of River Canoeing” course to field staff from a Girl Scout camp that does canoe expeditions with their campers.
Dr. Elizabeth Andre instructed the Northland courses where Cam and Liam learned to canoe. She is an American Canoe Association (ACA) level four whitewater canoe instructor trainer (IT), which means she can certify people to be level four instructors. Dr. Andre is one of only sixteen ACA L4 ITs in the world, and most Instructor Development Workshops are only four days in length. It’s a unique opportunity for canoe students to be able to spend twenty-two days in a row working with an L4 IT.
Cam and Liam are both enthusiastic learners who pushed themselves and each other to refine their skills. When they returned from their most recent May Term course, they purchased a used tandem whitewater canoe for $200 from Northland College’s Outdoor Pursuits program so they could compete in the championships at the end of June. The canoe was being retired from the College’s inventory and in rough shape, but Liam patched the hull.
The North American Championships took place June 20–25 at Whitewater Park in Wausau, Wisconsin. The first three days were practice, and the final three days were competition. The slalom course was very technical and included some high-volume dynamic features that were quite intimidating to everyone, including seasoned veterans of open canoe slalom. Cam and Liam put in hours of work over the three days of practice and took advantage of the numerous national champion canoeists who were there to ask for advice and to receive coaching. It was stunning how quickly their boating improved over the three days of practice and the following three days of competition. The final day of competition included the men’s tandem class. Cam and Liam hit their lines perfectly and paddled at an exhausting cadence for the roughly four-minute course.
When the results were in, Cam and Liam edged out the second place team by 3 seconds to claim the gold. Everyone in attendance was thrilled for Cam and Liam, including Dewey Ewers, a multi-time national champion who was in the tandem that came second. He called Cam and Liam “the future of the sport.”