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Adam van Koeverden: A McMaster alumnus, Olympic gold-medalist and MP

Adam van Koeverden is Milton’s current member of Parliament and has been since 2019, but he had not always planned to go into politics. In 2007, van Koeverden graduated as valedictorian from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology all while balancing an athletic career as Canada’s most successful kayak paddler

During van Koeverden’s pre-teen life, he never would have considered himself an athlete. 

“I wasn’t a very good athlete growing up; I was pretty bad at most of the early-indicator sports. . . I ran cross-country, track and field, downhill skiing and snowboarding, stuff like that. I liked riding my bike, but I wasn’t really into the games that most young boys would identify themselves as athletes by doing,” explained van Koeverden.

When he was 13, things would begin to change, as he joined the local canoe club in Oakville, Ontario. For van Koeverden, kayaking started as a way for him to stay busy after school and get his exercise. However, it quickly became his connection to his local community and a value that has remained with him ever since. 

“When I went down to the canoe club, I found something new that nobody else did. I wanted to be the best at something and nobody else that I knew did kayaking. So on the first day, I was already the best kayaker I knew, which was novel. I stuck with it because it was exciting and different and I was up for the challenge,” said van Koeverden.

It was not until van Koeverden had been kayaking for a few years that he became interested in pursuing the sport competitively at a high level. He began racing competitively both in and out of Ontario, as well as nationally and internationally. 

In 2004, van Koeverden qualified for the first time for the Summer Olympic Games in Athens and acted as the flag bearer at the closing ceremonies in addition to achieving gold in the K-1 500 metre race. He continued to race in the next three Summer Olympics, ending his Olympic career with four Olympic and eight world championship medals

Despite not competing for McMaster’s varsity teams, he was still continuously supported by his peers, faculty and professors. 

“I made it pretty clear to a bunch of my professors that I had big goals and I needed their support in order to achieve them. Professors like Maureen MacDonald, [Stuart] Phillips and Martin Gibala and many, many others, [including] Digby Sale, were there for me [and stood up for me] when I needed a little bit of help. [Joanne] Smith [did] as well — she was an administrator within the department,” said van Koeverden. 

While he had plenty of support, van Koeverden stressed the importance of continuous learning. 

“You need to become sort of a student of your sport, like a student of your craft a little bit, if you want to be successful. And I think what that means is different for everybody, but you can’t rely solely on coaches and administrators and other people to figure out how to get better. You’ve got to figure that out for yourself,”

Adam Van Koeverden

Van Koeverden is no longer paddling competitively, but he continues to make splashes as Milton’s MP. He advocates for youth and seniors alike, promoting active living while working towards an equitable future. Turning to politics was not an easy decision and it stemmed from his hope to remain an active part of Team Canada. 

“I landed on politics because I saw a gap, to be honest. I saw a lot of politicians working hard, developing great policies and I didn’t see enough, from my perspective, on the priorities of physical health, and preventative medicine and recreation and sport in Canada,” said van Koeverden.

Having just been re-elected in the most recent election, van Koeverden is excited to continue working as Milton’s voice in Ottawa. For students with diverse interests, a sense of ambition and high hopes for themselves, van Koeverden is surely a great role model and a source of inspiration! 

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