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John McCalla-Leacy’s story

John McCalla-Leacy’s story 4.1.2021

British Canoeing prepared an interesting story on John McCalla-Leacy, former canoe slalom paddler, born to first-generation Jamaican-British parents, in a working class neighbourhood in London.

British Canoeing story:
When a teacher at school introduced the concept of kayaking to him, he jumped at the opportunity. “I had to ask what kayaking was” he laughs, but two weeks later, he was on the water giving it a go. “I was terrified of water” he admits, but “pride had got me into kayaking, and pride was going to ensure I worked hard to get good.” And he did. Not one to turn down a challenge, he poured all his focus into learning the sport. After some time in a kayak, John was asked to take part in canoe slalom, a discipline he would once again show great promise in.
Aged just 14-years-old, he made his debut in canoe slalom and from there, progressed to the pinnacle of the sport winning his first junior international event in Sweden in 1987 and making the GB Junior training squads from 1988 and the Junior Pre Worlds Team in 1989.
Looking back at his paddling career, however it is clear that paddling provided much more than a competitive outlet. It provided an escape from his home life where his parents were going through a divorce and high crime within the neighbourhood threatened to suck him in. “As I got quite a bit better and found myself in the junior GB team I was aware I was the only black person on the squad, which felt quite odd, but I never had any problems.” he says.
“I found I made really great friends with my training partners and it was an incredibly supportive community. It also helped me to refocus on my studies where I hadn’t previously been so attentive.
“So much of what is taught at schools is taught in the abstract...but in the context of canoeing it all began to make sense. I had a training log that I’d keep with details of training sessions which required writing skills and also tied in a lot of maths. I’d work out how long I was training for, my resting pulse rates and work to rest ratios. All of a sudden the abstract and boring maths lessons became relevant to my life as an athlete.”
As a result, John returned to school and retook the exams he had previously failed, successfully passing them all. “The sport made everything make sense.” he said.
Not only is John now a successful business man and partner at one of Britain’s biggest accountancy firms KPMG, but earlier this month, he was elected by the firms c600 partners to become the firm’s first black board member in its 150 year history in the UK. “I would definitely put that down to the sport and my teacher who introduced me to the sport at such a young age.”
John went on to become an elite coach for some of the sport’s brightest athletes including British slalom canoeist, Mallory Franklin and Johny Akiyemi Africa Cup Champion and Nigerian Olympic canoeist. For John paddling is now a favourite pastime which he does with his family in the south of France most years. “Paddling is still very much in my heart and I still enjoy a long, hard paddle for relaxation, to de-stress and spend time in peace and quiet. It will always be a part of me.”



Source: https://www.britishcanoeing.org.uk/news/2020/canoe-slalom-john-mccalla-leacys-story