John Southwood started canoeing in Orange in the late 1950s, encouraged by Dutch immigrant Joe Runeman, who introduced canoeing to local people. Canoeing became very popular in Australia and Orange was at the forefront. John competed in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, the 1972 Games in Munich, and the 1976 Games in Montreal with John Sumegi, who was also from Orange. He did much of his training, summer and winter, on Lake Canobolas.
"It all comes flooding back - the joy of being in the water … when it's dead calm you could be floating on air."
Training [for the Olympics] was six days a week - five days on the water and one day off the water. I spent an hour and a half a day on the water. You copped the whole spectrum of weather. I remember one November I went out there and it was a reasonable afternoon and a howling wind blew up and it was snowing by the time I left.
My first Olympics was in 1968 in Mexico City. That was an experience that all athletes will never forget with the rarified air because of the altitude. I was a semi-finalist in the K2 race with the top Victorian paddler.
The Munich Games were quite an experience [because of the terrorist attack]. I paddled in the K1, 1000 metres and was a semi-finalist there.
I then paddled with John Sumegi. The two of us trained on Lake Canobolas. At the Montreal Games, John and I paddled in the 500 metres and we were eighth in the final of the Games.
The best thing about canoeing was the joy of paddling in the water. It all comes flooding back – the joy of being in the water. On the water you get all the different conditions. When it's dead calm you could be floating on air. When the conditions are like air it's unreal.
Once on the lake, when I was doing my efforts competing against a clock, I was screaming down the lake and I was about to do a stroke and I looked down and there was a black snake ... I didn't do that stroke!