(foarto contribution) 

Setting the course

The first time I saw Branko was on a small inlet of a great European river – the Danube. He was sitting in his canoe setting up poles for a canoe slalom training course. As a photographer, I was immediately intrigued. My interest grew, until one day I asked if he would agree to a photo series of his life as a coach. He agreed and I came to know Branko, his students and his work with them from a much closer angle.

Branko holds a university degree in Biochemistry. Despite working full-time, he has been a volunteer coach for children and youth for the past 40 years. Meets and practices take place at least three days per week, year-round, even during school summer holidays. Summers happen on the water, winters happen in the gym, at the pool or in the weight room. He prepares students for canoe slalom and sprint competitions in Slovakia and abroad. During the summer, he organizes summer camps that perfect water skills, and tourist canoe trips down rivers. Former students are on hand to help him with his endeavors.

Since minimal funding is available for the sport, he fixes older vessels for his students, so that they are able to train. His responsibilities include securing training areas, boathouse and slalom course upkeep, and last but not least, finding sponsors.

His leadership of children and youth is based on a natural authority. As a good teacher would, he exposes them to a controlled risk, which he teaches them to tackle with respect and without fear. Meets and most of all summer camps under his guidance are not only a way to exercise sporting techniques, but also to teach life skills and teamwork.

I spent a quality amount of time with Branko and his students and was able to get to know them better. Now I know that he not only sets the course for canoe slalom but for life itself.

Branko Illek (1949) graduated from Comenius University in Bratislava with a degree in Biochemistry. He has worked in the medical laboratory field and is the author of several specialized publications. He has lectured on laboratory technology in clinical biochemistry at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. His coaching career began after graduating from university. He gradually obtained the highest possible qualifications at the Coaching Department of Comenius University. He began coaching at the Slávia Club of Comenius University and presently heads the Water Slalom Club of Karlova Ves in Bratislava. Apart from coaching, he is also an international canoe slalom judge, taking part in numerous world competitions (World Championships, World Cup, European Championships). He is the first Slovak to have judged at the Olympic Games. He was chief judge six times at the World Cup, a feat no other Slovak has accomplished. Hundreds of students have trained under his guidance, many achieving great success (World Champions, Czechoslovak and Slovak champions). Present-day competition boat manufacturers, the Vajda brothers, also started out in his team.


Rád by som poďakoval Brankovi a jeho zverencom za to, že mi umožnili nazrieť do ich klubového života, Eve a Niki za preklad sprievodného textu do angličtiny - oficiálneho jazyka projektu TheOtherHundred.