Cycling injury during training could keep rower from Tokyo Olympics

One month from the Tokyo Olympics, Island-based Rowing Canada could be down a team member in Tokyo.

Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, a member of the women’s eight, was reportedly injured in a cycling accident at Strathcona Lodge, a 160-acre outdoor education and training centre located 41 kilometres from Campbell River on the shore of Upper Campbell Lake. The lodge has been used as a team-building and physical-activity isolation camp for club and Canadian national teams in several sports.

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It is an emotionally wrenching turn of events for the 30-year-old, a former competitive alpine skier, whose ambitions in that sport were ended by a broken leg. She earned herself another shot — this time for the Summer Games — when she became a high-level rower, despite coming to the sport late.

The injury could affect podium chances for the women’s eight, which was in the top five in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and won silver in the 2017 and 2018 world championships.

Citing medical confidentiality, Rowing Canada said it is unable to divulge the name of the injured athlete, but sources told the Times Colonist the injured rower is Gruchalla-Wesierski, who hails from Calgary.

Along with Gruchalla-Wesierski, the selected Canadian women’s eight crew consists of Avalon Wasteneys of Campbell River, Sydney Payne out of Brentwood College, Andrea Proske of the Victoria City Rowing Club, Susanne Grainger of London, Ont., coxwain Kristen Kit of UBC, Madison Mailey of Burnaby Lake Rowing Club, Lisa Roman of London, Ont., and Christine Roper of Ottawa.

A replacement rower would come from the ranks of the named women’s sweep spares for Tokyo — Ivy Quaintance of the Victoria City Club, Rebecca Zimmerman from the University of Victoria Vikes or Morgan Rosts.

Upper-body surgery was performed on the injured athlete last week, said Iain Brambell, Rowing Canada’s high-performance director.

“We are working with the medical staff. It’s five weeks out from the Tokyo Games, so the timeline is challenging,” Brambell said.

Regardless of whether Gruchalla-Wesierski will make the Games, an alternative will be needed to fill her seat during current training sessions.

“It’s very unfortunate. We do not want to put the weight of the world on the athlete. Our No. 1 priority is the health and well-being of the athlete,” said Brambell.

The 29-athlete Canadian rowing team for the Tokyo Olympics was named last week. The national team has been training on Elk Lake in Saanich, Quamichan Lake in North Cowichan and Shawnigan Lake. The team departs Victoria on July 1 for its Japanese pre-Games training camp in Sagamihara, 62 kilometres outside Tokyo. The 2020 Olympics, delayed one year due to the pandemic, open July 23.

Brambell, a Brentwood Bay product who won Olympic bronze in the men’s lightweight four at Beijing in 2008, said the organization is confident of the COVID safety measures in place for the Games.

Rowing Canada has won 41 Olympic medals, the third most among Canadian sports in the Summer Games, and is looking to rebound at Tokyo following its single silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics for the Victoria lightweight women’s double team of Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich.

Post-Tokyo, Rowing Canada will vacate its long-time home on Elk Lake and train exclusively at Quamichan Lake.

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