"One of my biggest athletic accomplishments that I'm very proud of was being named the 2013 Youth Female Athlete of the Year in Saskatchewan."
For Kylie Zirk, competing in the 2013 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Slalom World Championships was a very foreign experience, not only because the event was in Slovakia.
"It was definitely a new experience," said the Saskatoon resident, who qualified for the event after winning a gold and silver medal at the National Team Trials. "It was the longest time I've ever been away from home. We were there for three weeks. Being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language - it's definitely an eye-opener.
Zirk, one of the youngest competitors at the world championships, finished 52nd in the K-1 Women Junior event. She took home a lot from the event.
"It was an amazing atmosphere. There were so many people there, both spectators and athletes, and it was amazing to be a part of it because in North America there isn't a very large whitewater community," said Zirk. "I was definitely quite nervous. It was one of my first international competitions and definitely the biggest one that I've ever been involved in at the time."
Competing in the world championships was a culmination of a number of successful performances on the provincial and national level for Zirk. She has been involved in sports all her life and has a particular love for the water.
She won gold and silver medals in the Junior C-1 and K-1 events, respectively, at the 2013 Canadian Whitewater Championships. In 2014, Zirk won a gold medal in the Junior K-1 at the Canadian Whitewater Championships and took home silver in the Junior C-1. At the event, she was once again among the youngest competitors. She also earned gold at the 2014 Minden Hills Open in the Open C-1.
But there's one accomplishment that really stands out to her.
"One of my biggest athletic accomplishments that I'm very proud of was being named the 2013 Youth Female Athlete of the Year in Saskatchewan," she said.
In the future, Zirk looks to build on her first world championship competition, routinely earning a spot on the podium at international events. Her long-term goal is to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, and win a medal.
Regardless of what the future holds, Zirk is grateful for everything sport has given her.
"Sport has definitely benefited me in every aspect of my life. It's helped me stay healthy, because it encourages me to eat healthier and to be active, which is a huge part of living a good life," Zirk said. "It's enabled me to see a lot of the world, which has helped me broaden my experiences and open my mind to new things, new cultures, new people. You really develop a stronger mental fortitude. You're able to pick yourself back up when you're down."
With all she has received from sport, Zirk has also given back by helping to coach younger athletes.
"Working with younger people has been quite an eye-opening experience," she said. "It helps me see what my coaches have gone through and all the hard work and effort they put in to make sport better for us and help make life more enjoyable."
Saskatchewan Sport Awards