The Winning Combination

A couple that coaches and canoes together, stays together

By Anthony Costello, Jan. 1, 2015.

Margaret “Peggy” Coulombe (right, middle row) and Anne Cooke (middle, bottom row) with their Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai teammates. Photos courtesy of La Luna Photography.

multitude of factors determine the outcome of any team race – power, timing, stamina, speed and teamwork, just to name a few.

A good team dynamic is integral, and no patch of rough water will stop them from winning.

The same can be said of any solid relationship. And for one local couple that belongs to Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai, Arizona’s first Hawaiian outrigger canoe club, both truths are a reality.

Margaret “Peggy” Coulombe and Anne Cooke first met in Washington, D.C. as part of the local Outrigger Canoe Club.

“I got into the sport because I was a runner, and used to play pick-up soccer games,” Coulombe said. “I stepped on a ball and twisted my ankle badly; the inactivity was driving me crazy and saw an ad in a paper to represent dragon boating in China and I said, ‘Sure!’”

Cooke was a part of the U.S. Air Force at the time and transferred to D.C. in 1995.

“I was just looking for something fun to do, that was healthy,” Cooke said.

Cooke and Coulombe eventually moved to Arizona, and Coulombe was asked to take a coaching position with Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai (which means Voices of the Sea in Hawaiian) in 2005.

Since then the couple, along with fellow Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai members, have experienced tremendous success – including medaling in several events around the world – thanks to their winning formula.

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

So what’s it like to have your spouse, who’s also a coach, competing quite literally alongside you?

“It can be interesting because we have a lot of the same values; we like competition, we’re independent … we can kind of get riled up together,” Cooke said. “I just enjoy being in the boat with people who are similarly minded, especially with my partner.”

Coulombe echoed Cooke’s sentiments.


Photos courtesy of La Luna Photography.

“Since we’re both coaches, and both in the boat together, there’s always someone I know I can trust in the boat with me. I know her limits and I can count on her to deliver,” Coulombe said. “She’s the most experienced person in the crew besides me and I very much count on her to develop training plans, practice schedules and her thoughts on how the canoe is running and how it can be improved.”

The couple admits things can get heated in the middle of a race, and that rapid, quick exchanges about directions and decisions can present communication issues, but the two developed a way to properly confront those scenarios.

“We often get into convos about the right approaches about how something should be done, and we’re both passionate about the approaches to take,” Coulombe said, “Disagreement? No, Passionate about it? Yes, but of course we’re both right!”

The couple agrees that they both bring different approaches and skills to the sport, which end up complimenting each other.

“The thing is, I’m in a power seat (third seat), and Peg’s in a ‘steer’ seat,” Cooke explained. “She’s management, I’m labor, but I respect her abilities. Some couples probably can’t do it, but we’ve gotten used to it … [the team is] always going to do what she says.

“Anne is more analytical and more kinesthetic; I’m more the teacher,” Coulombe said. “Our personalities are exact opposites so we approach things differently, but the outcomes are usually the same.”

But, what about the other four teammates in the canoe; what’s it like to have a couple competing alongside them?

“I’m sure sometimes it’s challenging to have two coaches in a boat. I’m sure people don’t know who to follow sometimes,” Coulombe said. “I think generally they enjoy that we’re both in it, but in terms of challenges that might be one of them in that there’s directions coming from multiple people.”

Communication is Key


Photos courtesy of La Luna Photography.

A big part of Coulombe and Cooke’s winning formula – in their canoe as well as their relationship – is communication. If something is said in the heat of battle, they make sure to talk about it afterward; a policy Cooke said makes them special.

“The most important thing is communication, you have to be able to communicate with your partner and let them know what you’re feeling without hurting their feelings,” Cooke said. “Being willing to communicate and take a breath, to hear what they have to say … be open to their input.”

In addition to knowing how to communicate, Cooke and Coulombe agree that knowing when to discuss an issue is just as critical.

“Because we’re both typically more experienced, sometimes Peg will designate me coach,” Cooke said. “We make sure to communicate that before getting on the water. Anything that comes up on the water is discussed afterward.”

Their combined experience has also taught them to not discuss such matters in the middle of the race, when fatigue can set in and affect moods and morale.

“I think it’s about having clearly defined roles before your blood sugar drops,” Cooke said. “It’s really knowing your roles out there before you get tired.”

The couple is currently in the middle of their winter series and looking making preparations for the 2015 season with the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association (SCORA).

And, although they’ve been together for nearly 20 years, the couple will also celebrate the first anniversary of their California marriage.

“The strength that we draw from this is a shared pursuit, and we achieve excellence from it,” Coulombe said. “It definitely brings us together.”

And the skills the couple has honed in the canoe have carried over into many other areas of their shared journey.

“For us it helps us develop plans [and] follow through with them … it can translate to everything like developing financial plans,” Cooke said. “And just seeing your partner do something they’re really good at is kind of sexy!”

History of Canoe Paddling in AZ

Outrigger canoe paddling was first brought to the Arizona and the Valley of the Sun by Lono and Lousie Navarro in 1997.

Bringing the first outrigger canoes from California, they started Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai, the first Arizona outrigger canoe club, whose mission is to revive, develop, perpetuate and promote the Hawaiian traditions through educational, recreational, cultural and competitive Hawaiian outrigger canoeing programs for adults and youths, in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment.

Today, Na Leo ‘O Ke Kai is a diverse family of paddlers that competes in regatta and outrigger races in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, that co-sponsor the Tempe Town Lake Outrigger Regatta and belongs to  the Southern California Outrigger Racing Association.