By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – Nothing could keep Maggie Hogan from heading to Brazil to fulfill her dream of competing at the Olympics, but the 37-year-old American kayaker is on guard about Rio’s risky water.
Hogan, who has won 14 national championships, treasures the opportunity to compete in her first Olympics but admits to some anxiety over the much maligned, sewage contaminated water.
“We’re going to be as smart as we can. I’m more concerned about the water quality than I am about the Zika virus,” Hogan, who will compete in the K1 500 meters, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Hogan, the only American to qualify in Canoe/Kayak Sprint events, will be based in Copacabana for the Games.
“We’ll stay in an air conditioned place. We usually wear long sleeves to stay out of the sun anyway, so we’ll try and avoid that best we can,” Hogan said about keeping safe from mosquito bites that can transmit the Zika virus.
“We definitely get wet. That’s a real concern, that super bacteria. We don’t want to get sick.”
Scientists have found dangerous, drug-resistant “super bacteria” off Rio beaches that will host Olympic swimming events and in a lagoon where rowing and canoe races will take place at the Aug. 5-21 Games.
“We’re gonna try something a little funky, we’re gonna try and waterproof the uniform. Hopefully we’re creating less contact time. Make sure we get a lot of rest, wash our hands, take a shower right after and do the little things right.”
Hogan said dealing with dirty water is a common hazard for athletes competing in open water.
“We get used to it,” she said. “We’ve raced in Mexico City before, they’ve hosted quite a few events. It’s a concern. It’s really a concern anywhere in the world now unfortunately.”
For Rio, Hogan said she would take extra precautions.
“Usually when we train, I throw a water bottle in my boat, but what could happen is that water can get on the water bottle and then when you spray it in your mouth you could accidentally get some of the bay water in your mouth,” the former University of California, Santa Barbara, swimmer said.
“So just to avoid that all together, I’ll hydrate better before I go out and make sure I hydrate after. I won’t bring a water bottle to minimize that risk.”
Hogan nearly gave up on her Olympic quest, but patience paid off for the native Philadelphian.
“I was ready to retire two years ago,” she said. “A lot of the sport is out of pocket for us. And it’s a huge risk for a very slim chance at the reward you want.
“Our budget for canoe sprint in the United States is what I can conjure up from fundraising. It’s not much.”
Hogan said she had to try a different approach.
“USA Canoe/Kayak is kind of in a little bit of shambles right now, the organization is merging with the American Canoe Association and the merger has been on hold,” she said.
“It’s been on and off, and now is in limbo until after Rio.”
Hogan became a special project of coach Michele Eray, who left her role as High Performance Director at USA Canoe/Kayak to train Hogan full time.
“The difference with her is she takes a very scientific approach,” said Hogan.
Utilizing technology developed by sports tracking company Motionize, Eray helped Hogan find her most efficient stroke rate.
“You have two sensors, one that goes on your boat and one that goes on your paddle and they feed info to a cell phone that’s in a waterproof pouch that’s on your dashboard in your boat,” explained Hogan.
“It can give you real time information or it can record throughout and give info later. It’s really a powerful device.
“We really utilized this tool to jump forward.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)