KENORA, Ont. — Emma Gray has come a long way in a short time.

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KENORA, Ont. — Emma Gray has come a long way in a short time.

The Winnipeg rower admits she flipped out of her boat and got soaked the first time she tried the sport two years ago. Now, she's one of the country's true young masters of the oars.

And she's quickly become the province's star of the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

The 19-year-old Team Manitoba flag bearer a week ago at the opening ceremonies at Bell MTS Place raced to a gold medal Friday morning in the female single sculls event at the Kenora Rowing Club.

Gray, who headed into the race as the favourite, said the victory was, indeed, satisfying.

"It was a really good race," said Gray, who had a wonky start but quickly pulled even with the front-runners from Quebec and British Columbia in the 2,000-metre race on relative calm Rabbit Lake. "It's a nice accomplishment, kind of what I set out to do.

"It was a hell of a fight, so it was nice to come out on top."

The three rowers jockeyed for position, but by the 1,250-metre mark Gray assumed the lead and held on for the rest of the race, finishing in a time of seven minutes, 57.11 seconds. Marilou Duvernay-Tardif of Quebec clocked in three seconds behind to take the silver, while Ivy Elling Quaintance of B.C. settled for bronze.

"We really pushed each other," said Gray. "You kind of hate it while you're doing it, but after there's nothing like a close race. As fun as it is to sit in front and destroy, you don't learn anything from that. It's great to really get pushed in the singles and see where you stand."

She already had a bronze from the female quadruple sculls event Thursday and then added another bronze in the double sculls with partner Gabriella Yakemow just two hours after her golden moment.

Not bad for a someone who started rowing in the spring of 2015 and is already being mentioned as a future Olympian.

"I definitely feel like I’ve come a long way and still have a lot to go," said Gray. "It feels like I’ve been rowing for two days and it feels like I’ve been rowing for seven years. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s fun to reflect back on how much you’ve improved and the work you’ve put in and to see the results of the effort."

Gray, who excelled in weight-lifting, basketball and taekwondo, was coaxed to try rowing in high school through Canada' Row to Podium program, which recruits young athletes to train and develop into rowers.

Her introduction to the sport did not go particularly smoothly, she recalled.

TOM THOMSON / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Manitoba rower Emma Gray strokes to a gold medal at the Canada Summer Games female single sculls 2,000-metre in Kenora Friday, August 4. 2017.</p>


Manitoba rower Emma Gray strokes to a gold medal at the Canada Summer Games female single sculls 2,000-metre in Kenora Friday, August 4. 2017.

"The first time I was in the boat, I didn't even get the catch (the start of the rowing stroke where the oar is set in the water). I flipped. It was spring, maybe five-degree water," Gray said with a laugh, adding it was a month before she would even get back into a single boat again.

"It's been a bit of a rocky journey, but I've learned so much and grown so much. I wouldn't change a minute of it."

Only three months after taking that frigid plunge, she was climbing a medal podium.

She represented Manitoba at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games in Fort McMurray, Alta., and captured gold and bronze medals. In 2016, she won the junior single and under-23 single categories at the Canadian championships, breaking records in the 2,000m and 6,000m races.

Gray also competed at the 2016 junior world championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and finished ninth in the female double sculls event.

She skipped the under-23 world championship in Bulgaria in mid-July to focus on training for the Canada Games. Now, she's got three medals stowed away.

"I like winning and it was a great accomplishment, but for me I’m just happy with the race and happy with the training I’ve put in. The outcome highlighted my work and showed how much I put in and what I deserve," she said.

There was certainly pressure to perform to her peak potential this week -- at a club she regularly trains at, just two hours from home.

"I try and ignore it, to be honest. When it comes to competition, it’s just staying relaxed, staying decompressed, knowing that all you can control is your own stroke and your own race," she said.

Gray said she botched the start in the single final but had plenty of time to straighten things out, literally.

"My first five strokes were lopsided and a bit shaky. I took a bit of a turn into the right-hand lane," she said. "But you just have to stay calm and try not to clench up and stay relaxed and know that, especially in a singles race, a boat-length is nothing. In a single that can be overtaken in 200 metres, so you just have to stay calm and know a race isn’t won in the first 500 metres as much as it’s an important part."

Watching intently from shore Friday was provincial coach Janine Stephens, a rower at the 2001 Canada Summer Games in London, Ont., who went on to claim a silver medal 11 years later at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England as part of the Canadian women’s eights rowing team. She also owns two world championship silver medals in the women’s eights.

Stephens said she was confident Gray would complete the mission for gold.

"I didn't doubt her at all. I knew what she had," said Stephens (nee Hanson). "It is really exciting. She's really an athlete who makes up her mind and then just executes her plan. From my perspective, (coaching Gray) is not a hard job. I feel like I'm more of the cheerleader on the side, with a couple of technical cues.

"She came to rowing as a really solid athlete, with a foundation and mental toughness that rowing needs and requires. Having the athletic ability before she found rowing made the transition easier. She doesn't push herself once or twice a week, she comes in and pushes herself every stroke that she takes and every workout that she does. It takes a special person to be able to do that all the time."

Twittere: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).