By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC PROSPECTS (Part 8 of 8): Every year, Rideau Canoe Club’s Maren Bradley puts a simple message on a piece of paper and posts it behind the bedroom door in her Halifax residence.
It’s a significant piece of the puzzle that makes her a high-performance athlete in sprint kayaking.
“I write down all of my goals. This past year, it was the junior worlds and Olympic Hopes (regatta),” Bradley, 20, said in a recent phone interview. “In other years, it was Poland 2018 or Belgium 2019.
“It keeps me motivated. I open the door and I see it and it reminds me of where I want to go. I see it going to training and it reminds me to work hard. At 6 a.m. on a dark cold morning, you see the sign and know what you’re doing it for.”
If you were to see the motivation sign today, it would say Canada Summer Games and U23 world championships. These are two achievable goals for Bradley, who must go through respective Ontario and Canadian team trials to attain those goals.
As the third-year commerce student at Dalhousie University continues to train with the national team in Halifax, she does so these days with a little more power in her stroke and confidence in her approach.
Earlier this month, Bradley was named one of 30 RBC Future Olympians, a group which includes seven athletes from Ottawa and area, the most of any community in Canada.
That honour makes her part of the Canoe Kayak Canada development team, which will provide her with full funding and national team support for the next two years.
The sixth annual RBC Training Ground staged a testing session at the University of Ottawa on Feb. 1, 2020, as part of its “nation-wide talent identification program dedicated to finding and funding Canada’s future Olympians.” Athletes were tested for their core speed, strength, power and endurance and watched by recruiters from 10 different national sport governing bodies.
More than 4,000 athletes aged 14-24 went through the testing process across Canada and the Top 100 were selected for the nationals, which were held in six different regions of Canada. From that group, 30 athletes were selected as Future Olympians. The process was spread over two years instead of one because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The national finals originally were scheduled for Edmonton.
Bradley decided to try the RBC Training Ground program for the first time two years ago, after learning about it and being inspired by other paddlers in her community.
“I talked to a lot of paddlers about what to do. I did research about what the tests would be. I didn’t feel I had my best day. There was not much testing with the arms, which is my strength. There was a lot of running, sprinting,” she said.
While she wasn’t recruited after the session by any other sport, Canoe Kayak Canada came forward because it knew her capabilities, having named her to its world junior canoe championship teams for kayaking in 2018 and 2019. She was part of the 2019 women’s team which won the bronze medal in the K4 500-metre race.
Bradley was then selected to the RBC Training Ground’s Top 100, which meant she qualified for the national finals. After another round of testing, she was promoted to the Top 30 and earned RBC Future Olympian status.
“I got a phone call from the RBC late at night in the middle of my exam period,” she continued. “I was super excited to hear the news. It means a lot to be added to that team. Being a Future Olympian is a neat title.”
The immediate impact for Bradley is she will have funding to attend a lengthy training camp in Florida from February to April. It also will help her market herself as an up-and-coming athlete to try to earn local or national sponsorships.
As Bradley was growing up, she was seriously attached to one summer and one winter sport. At eight years old, she attended Canoe Kids summer day camp at the Rideau Canoe Club and immediately loved the outdoor sport. At about the same time, she started playing girls’ hockey, which was equally exciting.
While she recorded her share of goals and assists for her various Ottawa Ice teams in the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association, she added you would more often find her in the penalty box.
“I was the team leader in penalty minutes. I had an edge to my game. The coach was my dad and he wasn’t a huge fan of that. I liked showing up and making the other team mad.
“I played hockey for 12 years,” she said. “It taught me a lot about sportsmanship and working as a team. I miss the sport. It was a hard decision to choose between hockey and paddling.”
In the end, paddling won her heart as she went from enjoying summer camps to being a competitive racer to making the national senior women’s team. In a few years, Bradley will likely put 2024 Paris on the motivational message behind her bedroom door as she seeks a berth on Canada’s Summer Olympic Games team.
“There are lots of girls on the team who are older and more experienced. I think of it and I want to go to 2024. I’ll hope for the best. I’ll work hard and maybe I’ll get a roster spot for a crew boat,” said Bradley, who experienced the stress and strain of going through the 2021 Olympic trials.
As for now, Bradley continues to train in Halifax with the national team and remains inspired by the note on her bedroom door.
“I always wanted to go to the ocean and go to school by the ocean. This is where the national team trains. Dalhousie was the right choice. I like Halifax,” added Bradley, whose grandfather Douglas Smith also was a commerce student at Dalhousie.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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