Phenix City native Mason Hargrove left the country last weekend for his first international kayaking competition. He returned to his hometown with a world championship.

The 16-year-old Hargrove stole the show at the ICF Canoe Freestyle Junior World Kayaking Championship in Sort, Spain, last Friday, capturing the championship with a 960-point effort that topped second by 150 points. The victory was another major highlight this year for Hargrove, who also won the national junior title in 2019.

“The experience in all was amazing. Seeing a different culture and meeting so many different people all around the world (was special),” Hargrove said. “The moment that I heard them announce the last score and I knew I'd won, I immediately thought, 'I can't believe this is actually happening.'

“I just put so much hard work and determination into it that actually completing my dream was so unreal.”

Hargrove’s path to a junior world championship was a product of consistency through the multi-day event. Hargrove had to withstand three rounds of competition to get to the finals, surviving cuts from about 35 other juniors down to 10 before the second round and then five prior to the finals.

Hargrove used his first run in the finals as his money run, and he clocked in with a personal-best score.

Hargrove’s parents, Matt and Melissa, have sacrificed a lot to help in Hargrove’s career — the couple sold their house to help fund his career and started homeschooling him to allow more travelling opportunities. Hargrove has fully dedicated himself to the sport, and his record run at the world junior championship had his mother racing to celebrate his big moment.

“I jumped in the water and congratulated him as soon as I could get my hands on him,” Melissa said. “They were like, 'No, you can't do that!' I was like, 'I'm going!'”

Hargrove has been on a meteoric rise in the sport after deciding four years ago that kayaking was a true passion after watching Matt participate. Although Matt was unable to attend the championship, he’s been on cloud nine ever since his son pulled it off.

“I'm still smiling from ear to ear,” Matt said.

The victory for Hargrove guarantees him a spot in the 2021 world championship in Nottingham, England. In the meantime, he’ll stay sharp participating in other competitions — hopefully on the European circuit given successful fundraising — while also trying to build even more awareness about the sport.

Hargrove has quickly gone from a novice interested in a sport his father liked into a true star come competition time. As great as it would be for Hargrove to continue collecting career highlights, he’s just as eager to growth the sport.

“It definitely takes time,” Hargrove said. “Don't get aggravated with yourself. It takes time and a bunch of hard work to get where you want to go.”

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