How Ballet Helps Olympic Canoer Casey Eichfeld Succeed

Slalom canoer Casey Eichfeld
Slalom canoer Casey Eichfeld. Harry How/Getty Images

Didn’t expect to see this in a canoer’s bio! Two-time Olympian Casey Eichfeld credits ballet with a lot of his success in the water.

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“I got started in ballet for the same reason I got started in canoe: My parents put me in it, I loved it and I was good at it right away,” Eichfeld tells Us Weekly. “When you get past the punch line jokes about ballet and look at the basic elements, it makes a lot of sense from an athletic standpoint.”

The 26-year-old says he is very thankful his parents, Steve and Kathy, got him into it.

“I’ve reaped the benefits across my competitive career, and to be honest, I loved doing it!” the Nintendo player, who stuck with ballet until the age of 14, explains.

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The most essential thing he learned from ballet was body control. “When you look at a slalom race, the strength doesn’t come from lifting a bar over your head or squatting with a weight on your back; it manifests in terms of how you can contort and control yourself around a series of obstacles, with current pulling you in one direction and inertia pushing you in another,” he says. “If you hit a gate, it’s a time penalty. If you miss a gate, the penalty is so punitive your race is basically over. It’s also about flexibility. Ballet really is the culmination of all of those elements: strength, flexibility, body control and focus.”

Casey Eichfeld
Casey Eichfeld of the USA competes during the mens’ final canoe at Lee Valley White Water Centre on Sept. 20, 2015, in London. Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

Another unexpected — yet crucial — part of Eichfeld’s training involves recovery with his beloved dog.

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“There is something so soothing and therapeutic about animals, especially dogs,” he explains. “There’s an indescribable feeling you get from sitting down and just hugging and wrestling and cuddling with your dog at the end of a long day. Our golden retriever, River, is my partner in crime, my therapy outlet, and the thing that brings me back to center. In so many ways, dogs embody the most natural human characteristic: They just want to love and be loved. It’s the most honest emotional state of all.”

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