Brett Heyl ‘00

Brett Heyl was just fourteen when he arrived at GMVS. He had just competed at his first kayaking Junior World Championships in the Czech Republic (Heyl paddles K-1 whitewater kayak slalom) a few weeks before starting classes. He managed to train for and compete in both ski racing and kayaking through his junior year when he decided to compete exclusively in kayaking, but Heyl always credits lessons learned from standing in the start gate of ski races as key components to his kayaking success.

After GMVS, Heyl made the US National Canoe/Kayak Team and moved to Washington, DC to train with the team coach and attend George Washington University. He trained for four years, working with his coach two to three times per day. He admits it was hard to strike a balance between training and school, but he was training with a purpose; the goal was the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. 

Four Americans made it to the final qualifying round, which was a World Cup on the Athens Olympic course. To stay in contention, Heyl needed to be in the top ten. After his first run, he didn’t think he would make it, but as he watched the remaining racers, he stared in disbelief. As the final competitors raced, Heyl realized he had done enough to make the top 10 and earn a spot on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team. “I was going to the Olympics!” he said. “Calling my parents to tell them was one of the sweetest moments of my life. They had sacrificed so much for my athletic success; it was wonderful to be able to give them that moment,” Heyl said.

In 2008, Heyl was one of the best paddlers in the world. Unfortunately, his dream of a second Olympic bid was shattered as a result of one bad run at just the wrong time. To Heyl’s credit, he is not only a one-time Olympian, but also a four-time U.S. National Champion, three-time Pan-Am Champion, and placed second in the 2008 World Cup Overall. 

After retiring from competitive kayaking, Heyl went on to work in public service, serving in a variety of capacities for former President Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton. Heyl has since moved on to other pursuits, but he feels that GMVS solidified the tenacity he has to stick to his goals and to weather the storms on his route to success.