For young city athlete, rowing was an either oar situation

Vivian Kristjansson training in her new sport, single sculls rowing. Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

A Bright’s Grove teen who had her sights set on a U.S. hockey scholarship is now in training for the 2024 Olympics — but without the skates.

After attending an RBC Training Ground tryout, Vivian Kristjansson was told she has all the attributes to become a top-flight rower, something she’d never considered.

“My sport was hockey, since I was like four years old,” she said.

“I knew what rowing was but I never experienced it … I was really shocked.”

This month, the 18-year-old secured funding to train as a potential Olympian at the University of British Columbia, where she now attends school with supervision and coaching from Rowing Canada.

The RBC Training Ground is a series of cross-Canada talent searches that test the speed, power and endurance of athletes age 14 to 25, and links up-and-comers with representatives of national sports organizations.

Last year, more than 3,000 athletes were tested and fewer than 600 were invited for additional assessment by a national sport organization. Only 30, including Kristjansson, were awarded funding to fuel their Olympic journey.

Kristjansson learned about Training Ground from a TV commercial and tried out in 2017 in Milton, Ont. Her overall fitness and six-foot frame put her on the radar of Rowing Canada, which later invited her to try single sculls rowing in London.

She entered her first competition last summer in a field of former Olympians and won one of her heats.

“I just got into it and I ended up loving it,” said the Northern Collegiate grad.

The RBC funding provides a paid coach as well as training, nutrition and travel expenses to international regattas.

Kristjansson’s immediate focus is on making the Junior National Team next year. At UBC, she’s studying philosophy and arts while competing on the varsity rowing squad.

“It’s such a team sport. Everyone knows what the other athletes are going through and we’re in it together. We all sweat and bleed together.”

Kristjansson said she misses playing hockey but believes her athletic future is brighter on the water.

“It was bittersweet, I’m not going to lie. (Hockey) was a huge part of my life,” she said.

“(But) one door closed and another one opened.”