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Mar. 26, 2019
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New LCKC coach brings global experience

By Jane Harrison
 
New Lanier Canoe & Kayak Head Coach Szolt Szadovszki blends Eastern European athletic discipline with Hawaiian warmth in a coaching style that pushes Olympic aspirants and encourages those who paddle for solely for fitness and camaraderie.
 
The Hungarian native and former Hawaii Canoe & Kayak team coach sees his role as “watering the seeds and helping them grow … whatever kind of flower blooms is up to them.” The life-long paddler and two time sprint kayak World Championships silver medalist started tending the crop of young athletes early this year, first asking them to write down their goals. In mid-February he focused on “learning the individuals” in order to develop training plans to bring them into bloom.
 
LCKC selected Szadovszki to replace Kalen Scholz, who served two years as coach and program director. The new hire oversees sprint team training, while long time LCKC member Jim O’Dell assumes the role of program director and Dragon Boat Team head coach. Szadovszki also coaches the American Canoe Association sprint team and plans to train its members at Lake Lanier Olympic Park this summer. He said 10 LCKC athletes show potential for making the U.S. National Team, which has two major competitions coming up at LLOP: team trials in April and the National Championships in August.
 
At a recent interview in his boathouse office, Szadovszki pointed to a dry erase board on which he intends to mark his athletes’ goals. “Two weeks ago I asked athletes to think about the goals they want to chase at any level, national, international or just to be fit. All three require different input,” he said. The boards will show the times they’ll need to hit to accomplish their goal. It’s important athletes realize that “not everyone gets the gold … most of all, be the best for yourself, not necessarily the best in the world,” he said.
 
Szadovszki, 45, accepted the LCKC position after a 10-year stay in Hawaii where he trained individual paddlers and began coaching the Hawaiian team in 2013. He moved to nearby Jefferson, about 30 miles from LLOP, Jan. 1 and felt the grey, cold of winter in North Georgia. “I went shopping and bought some warmer clothes … I became soft in Hawaii,” he chuckled.
 
He’s acclimating his coaching style from Hawaii’s year-round balminess to the constantly changing conditions on Lanier. He doesn’t put athletes on the water unless the air temperature gets into the mid- to upper-50s. He believes cold tenses up muscles, resulting in poor form. And, when athletes pile on layers of warm clothing, the bulk thwarts proper technique.
 
So, until the weather warms up, his 24 athletes are running, swimming, and circuit training at a local fitness center. He sends them down the boathouse hall to the Lanier Rowing Club’s headquarters to build endurance on rowing ergs. To perfect paddling technique, he guides them with repeat “slow mo” movement. “We’re building the engine off the water, so when we hit the water with the right technique it will work well,” he said.
 
He believes dwelling in a four-season climate forges a work ethic different from that in the paradise-like environment in Hawaii where kids can surf all morning and then come to practice. But he counts lessons from the Pacific high among influences in his life. The ups, downs, bursts of power and doldrums taught him how to balance discipline and hard work with sheer joy of the sport. “You’ve got to enjoy it,” said the athlete who almost put his paddles away for good.
 
Born in Budapest, Hungary’s capitol, Szadovszki took to the water at age 7. “I pretty quickly knew I was a kayaker,” he said. “By 15 or 16 years, that was my life, my profession. The system is different there” in a culture that supports some of the world’s strongest paddlers. At 16, he got club and government compensation for food and gas money. “I made more money per month than my mother, a pharmacist.” Compare that, he said, with American paddlers who finance their own trips to race venues.
 
While on the Hungarian National Team, Szadovszki traveled to training camps in Florida. “I fell in love with the place,” he said. He extended his stays with summer visits with relatives in Chicago. In 2001, after missing a chance to go to the Sydney Olympics by less than half a second, he left the Hungarian team, retired from the sport, tired and disappointed. He stayed in Chicago, got his Green Card, and took “time to find the things I had left behind in my life (from a non sport perspective),” he wrote in an on-line biography.
 
Eventually the lure of the ocean drew him to San Francisco, where he took up ocean kayak and surf ski, riding the waves to a strong reputation as elite marathon paddler. He felt Hawaii’s pull after paddling a 32-mile race between two islands. In 2008, he packed up, moved to Hawaii, started training individuals, and answered the Hawaii team’s call to coach. He remained until the Lanier job.
 
He sees Lanier as a potential site for a water sport “academy,” where aquatic athletes of all kinds can rise up. It’s one of the world’s best places to train, he said. Unlike the ocean, it’s flat, “but it’s not boring. It’s interesting,” he said. “It almost feels like a river, but it’s a lake” surrounded by forests “where you can hide from the wind” and lined at places by “beautiful houses.”
 
The man who seems to absorb knowledge from water also recognizes the importance of traditional education to the youngsters he coaches. If they want to leave the team for college, he urges them to do so, with kayak in tow. They can paddle when they can – possibly alongside a college rowing crew – and circle back into the sport. He pointed out that in Eastern Europe, paddlers between ages 25-35 emerge as some of the world’s best.
 
He said that whenever he returns to Hungary, he “picks it right up” with friends he grew up with in kayaks. “Paddling has this mindset that people match … it’s lovely to see them start at a young age” and remain lifelong friends. He hopes to nurture the bond by guiding athletes toward their goals and helping them balance their lives.

Posted online 2/28/19
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