11 April 2024

Four female coaches from the world of paddle sports have set their sights on the future after graduating from the Women in Sport High Performance Pathway (WISH) leadership programme. 

Chinese Taipei’s Wei-Han Chen, Hungary’s Sara Timea Seprenyi, Mexico’s Adriana Valderrama Morones and South Africa’s Bridgitte Hartley have completed the scheme that aims to equip female coaches who have the potential to succeed at the highest level. 

The quartet were among 21 coaches from across a number of sports that participated in the programme which started in September 2022. 

A special online graduation ceremony was held on April 9 to celebrate the achievements of the coaches over the past 21 months. 

The programme featured a five-day residential camp run at the University of Hertfordshire in England as well as online sessions in leadership, leadership mentors and sport-specific mentors. 

Chen, Seprenyi, Valderrama and Hartley benefited from the course as they look to carve out careers in coaching and sports leadership. 

“The WISH programme is an amazing initiative that is helping women on the pathway to becoming successful coaches and leaders,” said Cecilia Farias, Vice President of the International Canoe Federation. 

“I am thrilled to see Adriana, Bridgitte, Sara and Sherry (Chen) graduate from this programme as they have fantastic careers ahead of them. 

“They are four role models in our sport and I hope others can be inspired by their work, ensuring that we see more and more female coaches. 

“We are continuing to make great strides in gender equality and I am delighted that there will be the same number of male and female officials and athletes in Canoe Sprint and Canoe Slalom at the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

“Our next challenge is ensuring gender parity in coaches.” 

Bridgitte Hartley coach

Bridgitte Hartley 

During her career as an athlete, Hartley made history at London 2012 when she became the first paddler from Africa to win an Olympic medal in Canoe Sprint courtesy of her women’s K1 500 bronze. 

The South African has since established herself as the master in charge of canoeing at Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg. 

She is also the chair of the ICF Athletes’ Commission and was instrumental in ensuring that the athletes’ declaration was adopted during the 2022 ICF Congress. 

“The WISH programme was an incredible way to network with other female coaches or athletes that are passionate about their sport,” said Hartley.  

“It was nice to get to know the athletes from the different sport codes and different countries to share the challenges that we have and also set goals.  

"It was nice to have different tasks in the course to challenge us to set new bigger goals and encourage us to dream big for our future careers. 

“We were also paired with a mentor who helped us dig a little bit deeper with what are goals could be in the future as female coaches or mentors.  

“It has challenged us to strive higher and encourage each other along the way. 

“For instance, it made me think that it would be something great to take some of my athletes to the Olympics.” 

Adriana Valderrama Morones

Adriana Valderrama Morones 

Valderrama represented Mexico on the world stage in Canoe Sprint as part of the women’s K4. 

After starting as a Canoe Sprint coach, Valderrama moved to Canoe Slalom and is now Chair of the Canoe Slalom Committees at both the Mexican Canoe Federation and Pan American Canoe Federation (COPAC). 

“The WISH programme was a great experience for me,” said Valderrama. 

“It provided a great opportunity for female coaches that here in the Americas we do not have in canoeing. 

“It is the best platform to help make your dreams come true. 

“The best part was the week we had at the University of Hertfordshire with all the coaches from different sports from across the world. 

“As the Chair of the Canoe Slalom Committees in Mexico and COPAC, I really want to help other women athletes and coaches to have the opportunity to work together.  

“I have seen a lot of changes at the ICF, giving females a voice and have visibility.  

“We are present and people can hear us.  

“I want to help because we know there are challenges for women because in some countries we are still not able to participate or don’t have the same attention to this area. 

“Cecilia Farias is my mentor and this graduation is dedicated to her.” 

Sara Timea Seprenyi

Sara Timea Seprenyi 

Seprenyi has competed internationally for many years in Canoe Slalom and is now looking to inspire others to compete in the discipline in Hungary. 

After working as a flatwater coach at a club in Slovenia, Seprenyi has joined the Hungarian Canoe Federation where she is responsible for helping the Canoe Slalom programme. 

“The WISH programme went by so quickly,” said Seprenyi.  

“It was 21 months ago when we were in London but it doesn’t feel like that.  

“We learnt a lot and the best thing for me was having a mentor like Jean-Michel Prono from the ICF. 

“In Hungary, we started a Canoe Slalom programme in February. 

“I have got the job at the federation as a coach and helping with the Canoe Slalom development programme. 

“I’m setting up the coaching programme, judges education programme, building kids courses, as well as setting the rules at home.  

“Jean Michel helped me a lot to set up this programme as he has got so much experience. 

“I am excited to be making history in my country.  

“I am the first Canoe Slalom coach at our federation and I hope I can live up to the expectations. 

“It’s always hard to finish an athlete career and start something new but I am hoping that the kids will have more opportunities than I did and we can build a Canoe Slalom course.” 

Wei-Han Chen

Wei-Han Chen 

Like Seprenyi, Chen is also a Canoe Slalom paddler aiming to develop the sport in her country. 

Chen was recently part of the ICF Asian development camp in Pattaya, Thailand where she worked with 27 athletes from nations including Cambodia, Myanmar, Mongolia and the Philippines. 

“The WISH programme was very special for me as it was the first time I had been part of a leadership programme,” said Chen. 

“It was a new experience and a different challenge for me but really cool.  

“I always work with canoe and kayak coaches, so I have not had many changes to work with coaches from different sports.  

“It was nice to meet different people from all five continents. 

“I am very appreciative to have had this opportunity.  

“It showed me that you have to stay curious and keep learning whatever level you are. 

“I was surprised when Jean-Michel Prono recommended me to take part in this as I am not even a national coach.  

“I was not confident at the beginning but step by step I felt better and by staying curious it doesn’t matter what level you are at you can gain much more benefit that you expect. 

“The goal for me is that I don’t want to just be a coach as I want to do something to develop Canoe Slalom as it is still a small sport in Asia. 

“If you have more people, you can bring the level up.” 

Related links

Canoe Sprint
Canoe Slalom