At first, there were rowing pains…

But sisters gradually got hang of their sport and are now ready for coastal competition


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Like most young athletes, when sisters Kaelyn Gauthier and Casie MacCharles (née Gauthier) watched the 2012 London Olympics, they dreamed of what it would be like to represent their country at an international event.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/07/2018 (1650 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Like most young athletes, when sisters Kaelyn Gauthier and Casie MacCharles (née Gauthier) watched the 2012 London Olympics, they dreamed of what it would be like to represent their country at an international event.

Gauthier, 26, and MacCharles, 25, grew up in the small town of Grunthal, Man., where they excelled in volleyball and ringette. Gauthier went on to play volleyball for the University of Winnipeg from 2009-10, with MacCharles playing for the Wesmen’s college team, and both played for Team Manitoba’s ringette team at the national level. But in 2012, the sisters were no longer playing either sport competitively and they had the itch to be high-performance athletes once again. Instead of watching the 2012 Summer Olympics as fans, they studied the events they saw on television in hopes of finding one that would be an ideal fit for them.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Training on the Red River sisters Casie MacCharles, left, and Kaelyn Gauthier are venturing into "Coastal Rowing" competition.

“We knew we weren’t going to be gymnasts based on our size,” said Gauthier with a laugh, who is six feet tall. “But when we saw rowing, we were like, ‘Oh we have strong arms, let’s do rowing.’ It was actually super funny because rowing is actually a very leg-dominant sport, so we were like, ‘Well we have strong legs, too, so might as well stick with it.’”

Soon after, they went on Google to see how they could get involved in the sport and that’s when the Winnipeg Rowing Club came up. They started training a year later and admit, rowing did not come easy.

“We were so terrible,” said Gauthier on their first time on the water. “We kept flipping our boat. I was actually quite afraid, there was so many things. I didn’t want to get in the water and there was a lot of fear when I first started.”

But what started out as fear all those years ago has now turned into excitement. The sisters will be one of the pairs representing Canada in Victoria, B.C., at the World Rowing Coastal Championships from Oct. 11-14. It’s the first time the event will be held in Canada.

“Honestly, it will be a privilege to wear the Maple Leaf,” said Gauthier, on competing with her sister in Victoria. “When we first started rowing, our draw to it was watching the Olympics and watching people compete for their country. So that was a dream inside of our hearts that we wanted to achieve, so this seems like the perfect opportunity to do that.”

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Kaelyn Gauthier admits "we were so terrible" their first time on the water.

The sisters signed up for the competition, despite not having experience with coastal rowing. They’ve competed at the national level in flat-water rowing, where they have finished in the top 10, but they’ve never been on the water at a coastal rowing event, nor have they ever competed at an international level. Their coach, Janine Stephens, a two-time Olympian who won a silver medal at those same 2012 Olympics the sisters watched so closely, suggested Gauthier and MacCharles take a shot at coastal rowing.

“The water conditions will be a huge challenge,” said MacCharles on the difference between coastal and flat-water rowing, as they’ll be racing on the ocean off Victoria.

“The next biggest thing will be the different course. Flat-water rowing is a two-kilometre straight race, you’re in buoyed lanes, with six across. Where in coastal rowing, it’s a six-kilometre race with buoyed turns, no lane lines and significantly more than six boats. It’s going to be a wild ride in terms of the physiological difference and learning to pace yourself over six kilometres, rather than going out for a two-kilometre sprint. It will be a challenge for sure.”

They admit they really don’t know what to expect and they don’t know how they’ll rank with their competition, especially the other Canadian teams, as coastal rowing isn’t as popular here as in Europe.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Casie MacCharles, right, admits "we love adventure and challenges. This has everything we want."

“Perhaps ignorance is bliss,” said MacCharles on their inexperience. “But for us, this is such a dream come true. We love adventure and challenges. This has everything we want.”

The sisters clearly do love challenges, as they have to overcome quite a few to train. Gauthier now lives in Niverville, and works as a physiotherapist in Steinbach, and MacCharles lives just outside of Steinbach and works in Winnipeg as a health and fitness program director for the YMCA-YWCA. They both have to drive for over 50 minutes to make it to the rowing club for training, but that doesn’t stop them. The duo train twice a day, six days a week, with practices starting as early as 5:30 a.m. It doesn’t end with the long rides or early alarms, either, as they also have to worry about covering majority of their training and travel costs. Although the sport has taken over a huge part of their lives, you won’t see either sister complaining. Their eyes immediately light up when you ask them anything about it.

“Every single morning I want to sleep in,” MacCharles said. “I hate waking up early, but then I get here and think, ‘This is the best thing ever.’ Even on mornings that we don’t train, I think sleeping in will be great, but I end up wishing I was rowing.”

The sisters have one more flat-water competition in early August in Kenora, the North West International Regatta, before they fully set their sights on coastal rowing. They plan to do a training camp in B.C. in September to get more familiar with coastal. Regardless of what happens, Gauthier said they’ll have no regrets about all the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made over the past couple years.

“We feel like that’s what we’ve really taken from this whole journey in these past five years is that our character development, our faith and everything has seen a lot of growth,” Gauthier said. “We feel like we’ve won already because we’ve already become such better people because of it. Being able to compete for our country, that’s just the cherry on top.”

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Rowing coach Janine Stephens.
Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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