Steamboat Springs The best moment, Sarah Hamilton said, came, of course, on a rushing river in the Costa Rican jungle.
The local kayaker — a rafting enthusiast turned kayaker turned, this fall, rafter again — said the highlight of her recent trip to Costa Rica to compete with the U.S. women’s rafting team came when her squad sailed nearly silently past a renowned team from the Czech Republic, a squad that went on to win the four-race event.
“They got hung up on a rock, and we passed them,” Hamilton said. “Everyone just went silent. And then we started hammering it.”
The Americans didn’t win that stage; the Czechs made up the time lost on the rock by finding a better line through a section of rapids. Still, Hamilton said that moment highlighted an incredible week in Costa Rica and the start of a competitive career the veteran Routt County paddler didn’t think possible until a few months ago.
“It was really cool,” she said about the early October trip. “It was really a dream come true for me on a lot of levels.”
Hamilton was asked to join the rafting team after impressing the captain in August’s Timberline Gore Canyon Race.
Hamilton said the decision was a no-brainer, and she got right to work training for her first event with the team, a race in Costa Rica that served as a preview of next year’s world championship course.
It all seemed perfect to the local whitewater aficionado, currently based out of Oak Creek. Before she went headfirst into kayaking, Hamilton served as a whitewater rafting guide, and worked many of the same rivers in Costa Rica that she raced in last month.
Her history in the sport and in the country helped make the trip all the sweeter.
“It was great because I got to see a lot of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time,” Hamilton said. “It all came back to me really fast.”
Competition wise, Hamilton said things were up and down.
The U.S. team squared off against three others: the Czech Republic team that proved the class of the competition, a Costa Rican squad and a team of Venezuelans new to the sport.
The American team got its raft stuck on a rock during one race, dropping the team to third in that event.
It nearly beat the Czechs in a slalom race, finishing second, and took second place overall.
It was an entirely rewarding experience on a personal level, however.
Hamilton, the newest member to the team, said that she felt welcomed to the team and that the team quickly felt welcomed to Costa Rica.
“There was definitely a language barrier,” she said. “Everyone would be sitting together, and there would be a slew of languages, but everyone had an awesome time. There was a great spirit of unity between the countries, even though we were all competing against each other.”
The event closed out the season for the team, but things will start back up in January with practices.
A spring national championship event awaits in Oregon, and if Hamilton’s squad can repeat as champions there, it will prepare to travel next fall back to Costa Rica for the World Championships.
“It was definitely good we went so we’ll be ready to win next year,” Hamilton said. “Really, I still can’t believe this all happened. I’m just honored to be a part of the team. Even if it’s an obscure sport, I feel like I’m representing my country, and that’s a huge honor.”