Canadian Sport School-Victoria a pipeline to national teams

The adage is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. A Victoria-designed educational option for elite athletes has been adopted in Kelowna and Prince George.

The seven-year-old Canadian Sports School-Victoria, with 30 students from Grade 10-12, is under the auspices of School District 62 and operated by the Canadian Sport Institute-Pacific at its PISE campus. Young athletes spend the afternoons in both academic study and intensive physical training, following mornings at their respective high schools.

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The program introduced its graduating Class of 2019 this week at its annual media day. The class includes three Canadian junior national-medallists in their sports — Riley Pickrell and Casey Garrison in cycling and Georgia Cameron in weightlifting. Two graduates are heading to perform in the NCAA — Maki Jenner at the University of Denver in field lacrosse and Marissa Murray at the University of Texas in rowing. Graduating rowers Spencer Thomas and Tai Kilpatrick helped their Victoria City Rowing Club U-19 men’s eight win the prestigious Windermere Cup in Washington state. It was the first victory by a Canadian crew there in 11 years.

The 2019 graduates will join a CSS-Victoria alumni list that includes Olympic-medallist rugby sevens player Charity Williams, national-team sevens player Caroline Crossley, national-team cyclist Erin Attwell, national-team wrestler Erin Geddie, national team field hockey player Lexi De Armond, ski Paralympian Mel Pemble, NCAA Oregon State Beavers Pac-12 golfer Keaton Gudz and Queen’s basketball and rugby double-threat Sophie De Goede.

“My goals are first the junior worlds and then hopefully the Commonwealth Games and Olympics,” said Cameron, an emerging dynamo in weightlifting at the 55-kilogram class.

Athletes tend to be in silos surrounded only by their own sport. CSS-Victoria instead creates a sort of hothouse where athletes grow from mixing with athletes from other sports.

“I had not met a lot of soccer players or rowers before. But I found going to school here that athletes at this level are as like-minded as you in terms of their aspirations,” said Cameron, who will attend the University of Victoria as a science major in the fall.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

Garrison, with her eyes on the national cycling team, concurred: “I’ve learned so much in three years here.”

The head coach of the Canadian Sports School-Victoria is former hammer-thrower Jennifer Joyce, two-time NCAA All-America in the Pac-12 for Cal Berkeley, and silver medallist for Canada in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

“The biggest thing is what these students learn from each other in a multi-sport environment,” said Joyce, in her sixth year heading the program.

“The model is looking to expand across the province.”

There are Canadian Sports Schools now at the Canadian Sport Institute satellite campuses in Kelowna and Prince George.

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