Upper school chemistry teacher Andrew Irvine competed as a member of the United States canoe polo team at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Ala., in July and the 2022 International Canoe Federation’s Canoe Polo World Championships in Saint-Omer, France, in August.
Irvine was originally scheduled to compete in 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put all competition on hold. “When were told the World Games were happening [in 2022] … we had some meetings and got together on Zoom and we talked about what the expectations were,” Irvine said. Despite some setbacks, such as team members leaving and the departure of their coach, the team regrouped and began training with visitors from New York and Texas. Irvine was selected as a member of the team in March.
The team held training camps and participated in a tournament called the Cup of the West with other U.S. canoe polo squads and a team from Canada. Members of the team local to the Bay Area trained every week at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View and the Berkeley Marina.
Going into the World Games, the team was up against some extremely tough competition. “They have programs that start as young as 7 years old, in schools and in universities,” Irvine said. Despite not winning any of their games, the team was able to overcome expectations. “We were more competitive than I think some people expected.”
Canoe polo ended up being the most popular event at the World Games, and Irvine said fans in attendance were highly appreciative and excited to meet members of the team. “We had people asking for our pictures, and someone asked for my autograph,” he exclaimed. “I was like, ‘You’re sure, right?’”
The following month, the team headed to France for the ICF World Championships, which featured a much greater number of teams and categories than the World Games. Team USA was grouped with teams from Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Spain and Taipei, Taiwan. They had three wins total, defeating Hong Kong twice as well as Japan, and recorded a tie against Taipei. “We were actually winning [against Taipei] up until the last minute, and if we had beat them, we would have been in the top 12,” Irvine said.
After the improved performance at the World Championships, “We reflected on how the World Games was like a training session, preparing us for the World Championships,” Irvine said, adding that he felt happy with his performance after seeing the level of competition he and the team were up against and remembering aspects of his performance. “I had some huge, impactful moments on the team,” he said. “I was happy to have found a way to contribute.”