Kiwi paddler back with Paris Olympics goal after rare heart condition ended Tokyo run

As an athlete you're told to push your body to the limit - but what is that limit?

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Taris Harker always pushed himself to the limit but it got to a point where his heart couldn't keep up. Source: 1 NEWS

Kiwi paddler Taris Harker found out what his limits are the hard way due to a mysterious heart condition that eventually forced him to leave the men's elite canoe sprinting squad.

Harker has always pushed himself; he was part of the under-23 K4 boat in 2018 who competed at the world championships with some of those teammates now Tokyo-bound.

The crew dreamt of qualifying the K4 for Tokyo together too, which made Harker push himself even harder.

“I mean, I don't really know how hard is too hard and things and that was part of the issue,” he said.

“My philosophy was just keep going until I couldn't.”

Unfortunately, his heart soon made that call for him.

Harker realised something was wrong when he could feel his heartrate was elevated even away from training.

“I could just feel my heart rate going and going and going,” he said.

“I checked it and it was 120 [beats per minute] in my car doing nothing. I sat there and just waited for 10 minutes and thought, ‘yeah, that's not great.’”

Harker was diagnosed with overtraining syndrome which, simply put, meant he had worked his body to a point it couldn’t recover from the strenuous exercise he was doing.

As a result, the 24-year-old was forced to leave the elite squad and canoe sprinting all together, with no idea if he'd ever race again.

“No one ever said to me, ‘you will,’” he said.

“They said, ‘you might,’ and, ‘probably not,’ but if you do this properly then chances are better.”

After a year away, his chances improved with no episodes recorded so he quietly returned to the water and now, another 18 months later, he's back in the elite men's squad.

“It feels really, really cool,” he said with a grin.

The new goal now is to get back to where he left off and qualify that K4 boat for Paris 2024 instead.

With canoe sprint nationals this weekend, it's a chance to prove to selectors he's got the speed and, more importantly, the ticker to deliver on the water.