Elite Amateur Sport Para Sport Rowing

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Rower Andrew Todd will celebrate daughter’s first birthday same day as first Paralympic race

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Andrew Todd. Photo: Kevin Light / Rowing Canada

By Martin Cleary

PARALYMPICS BOUND: Sometimes, everything happens at once. But former Ottawa para rower Andrew Todd plans to cover two major moments, thousands of kilometres apart, in a day.

The day the 32-year-old has his opening PR3 (Para Racing) category mixed coxed four heat to start his second Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo, his daughter Rosaleigh will celebrate her first birthday.

And then throw in the complicating factor that Todd will be at the Sea Forest Waterway on Tokyo Bay on Aug. 27, while Rosaleigh and wife/mother Jenna (Pelham) Todd will be 12 hours behind in Halifax.

But like any organized high-performance athlete, Andrew has a plan he believes will work. Andrew and Jenna are all too familiar with daily FaceTime visits, when he trained in Victoria. So why not now?

If all goes well, Todd plans to connect first with his family to wish Rosaleigh a happy birthday before joining teammates Bayleigh Hooper, Victoria Nolan, Kyle Fredrickson and coxswain Laura Court.

Todd returns to the Paralympics, after winning a bronze medal in the same event at the 2016 Rio Games. But this time, he heads to the one-year delayed Games because of the COVID-19 pandemic as a father.

“I have a great wife,” Todd said emphatically in a phone interview. “It helps that Jenna was a high-performance rowing athlete in Ottawa. We started the same year rowing at the University of Ottawa.

“She gets it. She understands it. She raced for Canada a few times. But the other part is marking time to be together as a family.”

To prepare for the Games, Todd travelled back and forth between Halifax, where he now lives, and Victoria for training. Last January, he moved there full-time. Jenna and Rosaleigh had a long spring visit.

“Halifax is four hours ahead (of Victoria). I would go to bed early and wake up half an hour before I needed to be up because that was the time we carved out to FaceTime as a family,” he explained.

Mental performance consultant Christie Gialloreto is part of the Canadian rowing team staff and Todd learned a lot about how to be a full-time dad and elite athlete during group and one-on-one sessions.

“One of my challenges was balancing being a full-time athlete and husband. She helped me a lot balancing my life as a parent, a good teammate and a good husband,” Todd said.

Jenna raced for Canada at the 2016 world championships and placed fourth in the lightweight quad. A former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees rower, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 2012.

Todd studied at the University of Ottawa from 2007-14, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in chemical engineering.

In 2013, Todd was struck by a school bus, which ran a stop sign during one of his cycling training sessions. The accident left him with severe injuries to his legs.

He loves science, took what he learned in biochemistry, and applied it in small doses to his training. Sport science gets him excited and he’ll often listen to podcasts along that vein before a race.

At the 2019 world championships, Todd and Fredrickson won the PR3 pairs’ non-Paralympic discipline for the second straight year. A fours team wasn’t sent by Canada, which qualified eight boats for the Games.

That meant for Todd, Fredrickson, Hooper, Nolan and Court to reach the Paralympics, they had to place first or second at a qualifying regatta in June at Gavirate, Italy. They dominated their heat and final.

When they pulled away from their peers and won their 2,000-metre heat in seven minutes, 9.41 seconds, and the final in 7:08.87, the times were important to them. Their goal is sub-seven minutes at the Games.

The five-member, Canadian PR3 mixed coxed four crew isn’t about a medal, but rather to become one of the few nations to finish under seven minutes. A fast time like that should produce a satisfying end reward.

“We know if we show up on race day and have our best performance, that will put us in a good spot to have a perfect race that we can be proud of. The rest will speak for itself,” Todd reasoned.

He added only Great Britain and France have dipped below seven minutes in international competitions. Great Britain has been undefeated in that boat for the past eight years.

“When we came back to Canada (from Italy), we broke down our strokes so we can build them back up better, made a few technical changes and made rigging adjustments,” he continued. “The last number of weeks and the next two weeks we’ll try to approach each workout on the upswing.”

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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