Wallace hoping to make Oly canoe history

Melissa Woods
Bernadette Wallace and Josie Bulmer have made rapid progress in the lead up to Tokyo

Four years ago paddler Bernadette Wallace's Rio aspirations were wrecked by cancer but she's determined not to let anything get in the way of becoming one of Australia's first female canoe Olympians in Tokyo.

The younger sister of former Olympic kayak gold medallist Ken Wallace, the 30-year-old is hoping to be a part of history with women contesting two sprint canoe events at the Japan Games as part of a gender equality push.

Jessica Fox will also compete in the newly-added C1 in the Olympic slalom events.

In sprint canoeing athletes kneel and use one-bladed paddles while in kayaking they sit and wield double-ended blades.

Wallace and 23-year-old Josephine Bulmer will compete in the two-person C2 race on Friday in the Oceania championships at Sydney International Regatta Centre, with the winners earning an Olympic quota spot.

The pair have only been a crew for just over a year and tried to fast-track their Olympic hopes following the program changes announced post Rio.

In 2016 Wallace was a Australian team regular and gunning to join Ken in Rio, where he won bronze, but just weeks before selection she was diagnosed with melanoma following the removal of a lump on her neck.

"They took the bump off and it turned out it was a melanoma and was quite a dangerous one with not the nicest survival rates," Wallace told AAP.

"That was the scare of my life and it still scares me every day, and next week I have to go back in for a biopsy of another little thing I have in my neck but I'm sure it's all fine.

"I'm not off the leash yet but I'm definitely lucky it didn't metastasise and spread.

"But that really kind of wiped out my Rio dreams."

Wallace decided to switch her focus to canoe, falling in love with the sport she described as a mix between Stand Up Paddle-board and outrigger canoe.

She said learning to paddle on one side but still go in a straight line was the first hurdle, as well as having to kneel which was initially "incredibly painful".

She and Bulmer have made rapid progress but need to hold off crews from New Zealand and the Cook Islands to clinch the Olympic spot.

Wallace said it would be special to be part of history.

"It's like a bonus goal; we can kick-start the sport for the younger woman around Australia," she said.

"To be the first Australian women would be amazing and if you're in the first heat in Tokyo, you'll be one of the first ever women to race in the Olympic canoeing.

"To be in that canon of athletes would be an honour."