Olympic paddler makes the most of his time crafting handmade watches

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Olympic paddler makes the most of his time crafting handmade watches

For Olympic paddler Mark de Jonge, time is everything on and off the water.

That's why the Halifax athlete is making watches, by hand, when he isn't training.

De Jonge is a two-time world champion in the men's kayak single 200 metres at world championships in 2013 and 2014. He won an Olympic bronze medal in London in 2012 in the K-1 200.

"I can't tell you how many times it runs through my head," said de Jonge of his Olympic medal, which he won by .031 seconds.

"It's a tiny fraction of a second but it's so meaningful to me just to have that little moment. That's the bridge between kayaking and watches, to me."  

De Jonge said the idea to make watches came to him while he was training in Florida in 2015. While other athletes used their downtime to nap and watch television, de Jonge realized he didn't want to waste a second.

"As athletes, we're obsessed with time," he said. "I thought [making watches] was an interesting little project to work on, something that I could sort of put my quality into."  

With a civil engineering degree already under his belt, de Jonge taught himself to design watches using specialized computer software. He then learned how to calculate the size of the miniscule pieces and conduct pressurized tests.

Making watches by hand is no easy task considering intricate pieces such as the second hand are a fraction of a millimetre. But de Jonge said it's work that compliments his athletic background.

"The type of mental focus that you need to put the second hand on is pretty similar to what I'd have to do in a sport where it's a very narrow tunnel vision that you need to get at some point," he said. "And I find that quite calming and it's just an enjoyable process," he said.

De Jonge sells the battery-operated quartz watches he makes through an online store called de Jonge Watch. His next challenge is to master the mechanical watch, run entirely by a system of tiny, carefully-placed springs.

He said that working to accomplish the task gives him the same satisfaction as trying to shave thousandths of a second off his times in races.

"It gives me a sense of peace that it's the best you could ever do. I think that's what I get out of training. If you put everything out there every day then you're going to have a sense of accomplishment with whatever you do."

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