Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/7/2012 (3202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
More than 10,000 athletes will be competing at the London Olympics. Not many will have taken an unlikelier path to get there than 31-year-old rower Kevin Kowalyk.
After growing up in the Maples and graduating from high school, Kowalyk decided he needed to do something about his 285-pound frame.
No, he didn’t take up rowing. He started running and kickboxing, and quickly lost 80 pounds.
Kowalyk knew he had to stay active to keep the weight off, and always had a couple sports on the go.
When he was 25, he suffered a concussion playing rec hockey and his doctor told him to stay away from contact sports for a while. And that’s when Kowalyk made his first visit to the Winnipeg Rowing Club in St. Boniface.
"Rowing seemed like a good sport I could do for a long time," he said. "You see rowers who are 80 and still on the water. Plus it’s outside, just a nice way to unwind, and works around a nine-to-five job."
At the time, Kowalyk was a sales rep for a road products company who was happy if he could just get the boat going in the right direction.
He started getting better, having some friendly competition against some of the other new members, and eventually went to a few regattas.
At the 2007 Canadian Henley, a major national competition, Kowalyk won the men’s single sculls. It showed he had some talent, but hardly sparked any sort of Olympic dream.
But then Kowalyk went from being gainfully employed to a starving student when his job led to a dead end and he started studying civil engineering at the U of M.
"All of a sudden serious training started becoming feasible," he said. "The transition from starving student to starving athlete was a lot easier to make."
With the help of former Olympian Jeff Powell at the WRC and training experts at the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba (located at U of M) he saw huge improvement.
In the summer of 2010, Kowalyk went to Victoria to see how he stacked up against members of the national team. The team has an open policy, where anyone can show up and stay as long as they can keep up.
"It took me about a week to catch the pack," Kowalyk said. "Once I did that, I steadily moved through it and became well-respected."
A cracked rib prevented Kowalyk from competing in the 2010 world championships, but it didn’t dampen his spirit. That December he finally got his carding letter, meaning he was now being paid to train. On Jan. 1, 2011 he moved to B.C. to join the national team.
A forearm injury that February forced him to switch from sculling (with two oars) to sweeping (with only one), but he made the transition well enough to help qualify the fours for the Olympics.
"That was a real surprise," he said. "It caught me off guard, picking up something these guys have been doing since they started rowing."
But the double sculls were still his specialty, and that’s what he returned to.
Last year’s World Cup in Lucerne was his first international race, and it was good enough to qualify the boat for the Olympics.
When Kowalyk was finally told a couple weeks ago that he’s be in that boat in London, it took some time for the reality to sink in.
"You don’t give yourself time to think," he said. "You’re on edge so much, and so many things can happen in an instant and turn your life around."
Like a concussion, or a major career change.
"I’ve been lucky so many times," he said. "The stars aligned. One person after another opened the door for me."
Kowalyk is hoping he and partner Michael Braithwaite have the race of their lives in London. If they do, he isn’t discounting a shot at the podium.
And no matter what happens, he’s already decided he wants to compete in Rio in 2016.