A Passion for Sprint Kayaking in Kenmore

Water sports are nothing new in Kenmore. From motor boats to paddle boards, a person can choose to glide along lazily or to speed across the water’s surface with ease. However, sprint kayaking is unique. It is a water sport that demands grit and agility. Athletes who master this sport are relatively rare in this country, though kayak sprint has been an Olympic event since 1936 and is more widely practiced in Europe.

 

Bringing his best skills and knowledge from Europe, Karol J. Osusky did a great deal to foster the love of sprint kayaking in Kenmore. Karol was born and raised in Malacky, Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia), a village outside of Bratislava. As a youth he joined a kayaking club that practiced on the Danube River, a river that he would later swim across–dodging bullets–to escape the Communist regime in his country and live with a sister in Sweden. He returned to Slovakia a few years later when the borders again opened up during the Prague Spring.

 

A Courageous Escape

Unfortunately, his country was soon invaded by Russia and the borders again closed. While back in then-Czechoslovakia, he married his second wife, Helena, and had two children, Eva and Juraj. In 1982 the family “went on vacation” to what was the former Yugoslavia (allowable because it was within the iron curtain).  From there the family escaped on foot over the mountains into Italy and then crossed the border into Austria, where they sought refuge for a year, until they were granted permission to come to the United States.

 

Inspired by scenes of the water and mountains near Seattle portrayed in a Jack London novel, Osusky moved the family to Washington state, settling first in Ballard, then in Kenmore in 1994. In the late 1980s he joined the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club with his children. While part of that team, he raced sprint kayaks at Nationals in the senior class and also went to the Seniors World Championship. Later, he mentored others, nurturing the love of sprint kayaking on the Sammamish River. Along with physical training regimens, he encouraged his students to eat healthy and read inspirational books.

 

With the core values of hard work and freedom, Osusky believed in the American dream. He used his skills as a woodworker and furniture maker to run his own small carpentry business, remodeling kitchens and installing countertops. He was a do-er and connector, creating events that brought together the Czech and Slovak communities, as well as those involved in kayaking. He loved music and culture, and even brought one of the most famous singers from Slovakia, Waldemar Matuška, to perform in Seattle.

Karol J. Osusky

Kenmore Water Sports Find a New Home

In 2012, Osusky met Kenmore’s new city manager, Rob Karlinsey through mutual connections with the sprint kayak sport. Karlinsey’s teenaged son Ben was a kayak sprint athlete and Osusky quickly took Ben under his wing and coached him on the Sammamish River and Lake Washington.

 

Osusky held the dream of growing a successful kayak and canoe program in Kenmore, and he identified a prime property at the confluence of Swamp Creek and the Sammamish River just for that purpose. The property was privately owned, but that did not deter Osusky. With concurrence from Karlinsey, Osusky contacted the property owner, Charles Twedt, and convinced him to sell his property to the City of Kenmore. The City was able to purchase the property from Twedt with help from a grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. Because the Twedt property is located next to then-Squire’s Landing Park (now Tl’ awh-ah-dees Park), the new acquisition became part of the park.

The Birth of the Kenmore Waterfront Activities Center (KWAC)

Almost immediately following the City’s purchase of the property, Kenmore Waterfront Activities Center (KWAC) was born. Osusky, along with Sheri Baker and other Kenmore residents, formed KWAC to get people paddling on the water. The City allowed KWAC to store boats and equipment on the property in return for providing water activities for the public. KWAC has been going strong since Osusky inspired the City to acquire the Twedt property. Many hundreds of people, young and old, have enjoyed the park, whether coming to paddle or simply to enjoy the scenery.

Sheri Baker and Karol’s daughter, Eva Croasdale

A Fitting Memorial

Sadly, coach Karol passed away in 2018. In the park and on the former Twedt property, a monument was placed in his name to honor his contributions to water sports in Kenmore. The monument reads: “In memory of Coach Karol, whose love for getting people on the water was unmatched. A highly decorated sprint kayak athlete, he dedicated his life to the sport and volunteered countless hours to train and mentor many athletes over the decades. We are forever grateful for Karol’s long-lasting impact on our Kenmore community.” On May 19, 2024 a memorial was held in his honor at the Kenmore Waterfront Activities Center’s Waterfront Fair held at Tl’ awh-ah-dees Park.

 

An Invitation

Osusky’s legacy lives on with the fruition of his dreams in the newly improved park that allows increased access to the water for the citizens of Kenmore. Once Squire’s Landing, and now Tl’ awh-ah-dees Park, has become home to programs for dragon boats, stand-up paddle boards, and outrigger canoes, in addition to kayaks and surfskis. The Kenmore Waterfront Activities Center, in partnership with the City of Kenmore, welcomes those who would like to become part of the tradition of water sports. For further information go to www.kenmorewac.org or email info@kenmorewac.org.