One writer once wrote of whitewater kayaker David Ford rather cheekily, “This is one Ford that simply will not break down.” At an age (36), when most whitewater kayakers have passed their prime athletically, David Ford was just reaching his peak.

After 20 years on the Canadian national whitewater kayak team, “the granddaddy of world kayak” would have the most successful season of his long career in 2003. Following a season-opening World Cup victory at Penrith, Australia, Ford finished outside the top-ten only once (11th place), while also finishing second at the World Championships and winning the Canadian Championships on his home course in Chilliwack. For his efforts he was crowned World Cup Champion and later was named 2003 Male Athlete of the Year at the 31st annual Canadian Sport Awards, alongside such luminaries of the Canadian sporting spectrum as Perdita Felicien and Beckie Scott.

Because he competes in a sport that only garners significant media attention every four years when the Olympics roll around, some observers have proclaimed Ford one of the most underappreciated Canadian athletes in history.

Perhaps the only aspect of Ford’s career more astonishing than his longevity is his consistency in a sport where much of an individual’s performance depends on elements outside of the athlete’s control. Natural river courses, such as the Chilliwack River where Ford trains as part of the Chilliwack Centre of Excellence, are generally difficult, while artificial courses, such as the one in Sydney, can be even tougher on the athlete.

“We all prefer the artificial courses because they’re tougher,” says Ford. “In these, an eddy should do one thing but sometimes does just the reverse. It’s challenging.”

In spite of this, Ford has accumulated thirteen international medals and won the title of Canadian champion an unprecedented eleven times. At the 1999 World Championships on the Olympic course at La Seu d’Urgell, Spain, Ford became the first non-European to win the world title in men’s slalom kayak.

Despite some admirable showings, the Olympics have been less kind to the kayaker. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Ford narrowly missed out on the Olympic medal that was the one missing item in his trophy case finishing fourth in the men’s slalom kayak competition. Ford was sitting in the bronze medal position, until it was determined that a faulty start timer had affected the time of Britain’s Campbell Walsh. Walsh grabbed the silver as a result, leaving Ford heartbroken yet again.

It was another bitter disappointment for the four-time Olympian, who finished 15th, 15th, and 22nd at the Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney Olympics respectively— results that stemmed from circumstances that would have broken lesser athletes. Sydney hurt the most of the three, as it was the first Olympics he was able to compete with perfect vision. After missing a gate in Atlanta that he couldn’t see, Ford underwent laser eye surgery. Even still, a water surge and a judging blunder forced him out of the medals—reasonable excuses that Ford chooses to ignore.

Another near-miss occurred at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he finished sixth. He retired from international competition in 2012.

In a turbulent and unforgivable sport, one constant was always Ford’s will to overcome. Perhaps you’ll forestall the collective groan and allow this writer the use of another cheeky, arguably appropriate, well-worn refrain: “Old Fords never die, they just go faster.”

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.