Kevin Kowalyk is at a fork in the river.
A civil engineering student at the University of Manitoba, the 33-year-old rower isn’t sure whether he should continue with his studies or make another go at the Olympics.
"I’d like to work in the water resources field, but the big problem is if I decide to make a go for Rio, I’m going to have to take the next two years off of school, and then I wouldn’t graduate for another three years and live my life on hold, a second time," Kowalyk said.
It’s no easy decision for the Garden City resident, who competed in the double sculls at the London Summer Olympics in 2012. He and his teammate, Michael Braithwaite, finished 12th in the competition.
Since joining the Winnipeg Rowing Club in 2005, Kowalyk has competed in the World Rowing Championships (2011 and 2013) and in the World Rowing Cup (2011, 2012 and 2013) and has twice won the Royal Canadian Henley in men’s single sculls (2007 and 2009).
Kowalyk’s success on the water is even more impressive when you consider how late he came to the sport, first visiting the Winnipeg Rowing Club at age 25.
"I had an ex-girlfriend that suggested I should try it," Kowalyk said. "I tried it for a week and then I suffered a concussion in hockey. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs and was so scared that I went to the hospital. The doctor suggested I don’t take any more head hits for a while, so then I went straight back to rowing because it fit the bill."
But, Kowalyk’s unlikely path to the Olympics started before he ever pulled an oar. Growing up in The Maples, Kowalyk weighed 285 pounds in his Grade 12 year.
"I became rather active after I graduated high school. I lost about 80 pounds in the two months between high school and starting Red River College, from running and changing the diet pretty radically," Kowalyk said.
"I just really wasn’t happy with the direction my life was going and I wanted to make as many changes as I could. I kind of lucked out. My body really responded quickly so it was easy to keep going when you are continually getting feedback and results."
Despite his many achievements, Kowalyk said he’s not a natural athlete, just the benefactor of sheer determination and "pure desperation."
"To be honest, when I started I wasn’t very good," Kowalyk said. "I’m not very co-ordinated. I had the build but so did the four other guys who joined with me. I was the lowest priority. I think that’s what really fed me. It really propelled me to improve and put everything I had into it."
Kowalyk said a back injury is preventing him from going full bore at the moment, although it didn’t stop him from winning the Open Men’s 1x at the Western Canada Sprints Regatta on June 14.
However, healthy or not, he’s still got that darned decision to make.
"I’m quite torn," Kowalyk said. "Both are great options and I know the rowing is a gamble, but it will never come around again for me."