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London 2012

Published on August 29, 2012, by

I wrote this on the plane home from London, it’s pretty long and I wasn’t sure if I was going to put it on here, but why not!

Oh my, oh my, what a ride this has been.  As I settle down into my seat on one of Air Canada’s finest Boeing 777’s, it feels like it’s the first time in over a week since I’ve really sat down at all.  Since winning a bronze medal last Wednesday my life has been a non stop whirlwind of events that has been incredibly exciting and made me prouder than ever to be Canadian.  I’m going to record my Olympic experience here so I actually can remember it in the future, and perhaps some of you will be interested as well.

I’ll start from the beginning.  I was born on February 7th , 1983 to two loving parents living on Burlington Beach…  No, that’s too far back, my bio covers that, as well as many dusty photo albums in my parents basement.  Fast-forward 29 years, and I’m on my way to London, chasing a dream that I’ve had for as long as I can remember.  We did our preparation camp in France and decided to stay there and miss the Opening Ceremonies, keeping our focus on our race preparation rather than the Games themselves.  It was important for me to not get too wrapped up in the Olympics; they are such a massive spectacle that they can be overwhelming if you’re not careful.  The way I looked at it was like I was an actor in a play.  The Olympics were the big show, but I only had one part to play in one act of the show.  My part was my race, which is what I’m good at and what I have been practicing for most of my life.  So while it was going to be the biggest race of my life, and part of the biggest show on earth, it was still just a canoe race.  Focusing on that made it much more manageable.  I watched the occasional event on TV and followed my Canadian teammates when I could, but for the most part I was back stage, practicing my lines so to speak, doing everything I could to perfect my part.  I’m not sure why I used an acting analogy, having never been on stage myself, but the Olympic Games aren’t something that athletes deal with everyday, so I guess that’s just how I tried to put it into perspective for myself.

I had a lot of help perfecting my part.  All the guys on the Canadian Canoe Team were amazing this summer helping me train, especially Ben Russell, Jamie Andison, Paul Bryant, Roland Varga, Ian Mortimer, Andrew Russell and Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny.  I honestly couldn’t have done it without those guys, and a big part of my medal belongs to them.  In France I was lucky to have Gab come and train with me in the final weeks leading up to London, and his help was invaluable.  The last 6 years Gab, Andrew and I have trained, raced and lived together at every competition and training camp all over the world.  It was great to have them with me for my final preparation, and to be honest when I left for London and they headed off for a well deserved Spanish vacation, I was pretty emotional and a little scared to be going to a regatta without them!  Luckily I also had some great friends and teammates on the Olympic Team.  Adam van Koeverden, like Gab and Andrew, is another great friend I have been through the trenches with, and have been training with longer than anyone.  While we don’t actually do much training together on the water, we are almost always on the water at the same time, doing the same workouts, as well as spending countless hours in the gym, pool, ski trails and running trails.  He is the definition of a champion, and his work ethic and attitude is inspirational and just plain impressive to everyone around him.  With Adam leading the team, we arrived in London very excited and ready to go.

The excitement grew when we arrived to our satellite village at the beautiful Royal Holloway College outside of London.  The place was done up with all the Olympic flags and signs (and security) that makes multi-sport games so unique.  24 hour cafeteria, games room, free laundry were all there, along with all our Team Canada gear waiting for us on our beds.  We were like kids on Christmas, running around trying on our clothes, with many a quote from Ryan and Hugues along the lines of “this is the nicest shirt/hat/jacket I’ve ever had”.  And they were nice; I think H.B.C. did a great job.  Trying on those clothes and seeing Canada written across our chests made us all proud to be representing our country.

Knowing we had to get some of this excitement out of our system so we could re focus on our races, we took a day off training to head into London.  We headed to the Oakley Safehouse, which was basically Oakley’s headquarters during the games where athletes who use their product could go to not only get some custom made new glasses to race in, but also dig in to some amazing food and hang out with some really cool people.  Oakley Canada was really awesome to our whole team and I’d like to thank them for being such an awesome sponsor. Great product and amazing customer/athlete service really put them ahead of the game.  They also let my girlfriend Annamay in so I could hang out with her, which was great.  Seeing her made me able to forget about racing for a while and just enjoy a nice afternoon in London.  She’s been a huge support to me and been behind me no matter what this year, even when her own Olympic journey came to an end, which I know has been tough.  So a big thank you to her as well!

After a great day in London, it was back to training the next day, with our first glimpse of the Eton Dorney race course.  We had been there last September for a test event, and everything looked pretty much the same, except for the massive stands for the last 300m on both sides of the course!  They were huge, and it was awesome.  Another awesome thing about racing there is that Windsor Castle is on a hill not too far away, looking down on the course.  With all the brightly coloured flags and big white tents, it felt like a medieval tournament was going on and we were the knights arriving to take part.  As if the Olympics weren’t exciting enough!  So everyday driving into the venue I would see the castle and the tents and imagine I was in medieval times, ready to do battle.  Once it was time to paddle though I would make sure I was focused on my training.  Just before a competition it’s not so much training as preparation and just trying to feel good.  The hard work is long behind you and it’s all about feeling sharp and going over your race plan again and again.  With all the excitement going on I made sure I was very focused on the water, and I was feeling really good about how I was moving the boat, and feeling fit and ready to go physically and mentally.  After a few days training around the rowing regatta, we finally got to move in to the real boat tents, and all of the sudden it was the night before the regatta.  I was feeling surprisingly calm, and for a moment was worried that I wasn’t nervous enough, but I think I realized that I had done everything I possibly could to get ready for this race, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.  It gave me confidence, and that feeling that I had nothing to lose.  I was going to race my heart out and give it everything I had, and the rest was going to take care of itself.  That being said, of course there was some nervousness, I think I packed my bag three times, and spent entirely too long deciding which pair of identical pants I would race in.  I went to bed, read a little bit, and actually fell asleep pretty quickly.

I woke up before my alarm and was out of bed right away.  I was excited to race, more than I had been in a long time.  It was a really good feeling!  I knew my heat was going to be interesting because everyone would advance to the semi finals so it wouldn’t be too hard, but people would want to get the best seeding possible without spending too much energy.  I did a toned down version of my race plan, planning to be in the top 3, and win it if it didn’t take too much energy.  I was feeling good half way through the race when David Cal from Spain made a strong push and seemed like he was ready to fight for it.  I decided it wasn’t worth it to race him and just maintained my second place.  After a good cool down I went back to our tent and it was pretty much already time to go race again, Adam was already getting ready to go back out on the water.  For some reason, I guess for TV maybe, they put the heats and semis only an hour apart, different from every other international competition we do.  I was prepared for it though and didn’t let it bother me.  It felt like I was back at WOD’s or Nationals, rushing from one race to another with hardly time to even sit down in between.  I approached my semi final with the same plan that I would for a final, knowing that there were lots of good guys in it ready to pounce if I didn’t bring my A game.  I felt solid the whole way and finished 2nd again, this time to long time training partner Mathieu Goubel of France.  I was in the Olympic final!  After missing out in Beijing, this was an important step for me, and I admit I felt a pretty big sense of relief after that race.  I knew I should be in the final and would have been disappointed if I had missed out again.  Adam was also looking in fine form, winning his heat and semi, so it was a good day at the office for Canada.

Sleep that night came easily again, two races that close together with so much mental focus put into them is tiring.  We had a day off racing between the semis and the final, so it was back to the course for a light paddle, then a good day of rest before the main event.  Bernie took good care of our bodies, just like he has for the past 10 years.  He is the best massage therapist around and by far the best person to have around the team at a Regatta.  Adam and I also took a walk around Royal Holloway college, through the woods and around the old buildings, just to take our minds off of racing a bit.  We also played some giant Jenga and connect four, just to get out of our rooms.  Sitting in your room waiting to race can be one of the worst things you can do, so we tried to keep busy.  My pre race day dinner was sandwiches, if I’m remembering properly, just regular meat and cheese and vegetables on bread.  Not sure why I’m writing that down but people do ask!  I just wanted something simple that I was used to, that wasn’t too heavy.

The night before my final I was a little bit nervous, but again I was really excited to race.  I’d been getting so many messages since making the final, and they had all made me so happy, and so proud to be representing Canada, that I was eager to get out there.  I also took a moment to tell myself to enjoy every moment of the next day no matter what happened.  I woke up on race day ready to rock once again, met Adam and my dad for breakfast like we had been doing everyday, and took my coffee on the bus with some music on my iPod to pass the 30 minute ride to the course.  Not much was said between the three of us, but there was a sense that everything was in place, that everything had been done, and we were ready to go.  I couldn’t ask for anything more going into a race.  It was cloudy and threatening to rain a bit, but I was ready for anything.  I had a great warm up, felt pretty good and went through my routine.  Coming down the course I saw the Cheema war canoe paddling by and was reminded of home, which put a big smile on my face.  This was just like any other race!  I also was treated to Jon Pike’s 50-foot head being interviewed on the big screen, actually speaking more clearly than I’ve ever heard him.

Once I was off the water I went back to our tent for a short rest before heading back out to race.  The Olympics are different than any other regatta in the sense of how quiet everything is.  We have a way smaller team than usual, and only a couple of us were racing that day.  It can be very lonely sometimes, but on that morning it Coinstar point gave me a complete sense of calm.  I spent 10 minutes relaxing in the tent before it was time to go, it was finally time to go on the water for my Olympic final!  My dad was getting Adam ready to go on the water, so I had a solo walk from our tent over to where our boats were stored.  I put in my headphones and put on the Chariots of Fire theme song, and marched out of the tent to the boats.  I walked slowly.  I enjoyed every step.  I looked down the course and took it all in.  It was incredible.

I’ll never forget that moment, and for me it is a stronger memory than winning the bronze itself.

I got to the boat tent just at the time when my music went to the next song, and then it was time for some fun.  While Chariots of Fire was very inspirational, it didn’t have a fast enough beat to really get me ready to go.  Nicki Minaj started me off with some faster beats, and I was warming up like no one was watching.  Carly Rae Jepson then came on and I got really pumped up and ready to go, jumping around and perhaps even dancing a little bit, paddle in hand.  I’ve gotten some heat from my friends about my music selection before races; it baffles Adam who listens to a lot harder pump up stuff.  But for me it’s all about having fun and making me smile.  I don’t go on the water wanting to kill my competitors; I’m not going to war.  I’m at a canoe regatta, doing what I love to do, having the time of my life.  When I’m on the start line and in the race, there is plenty of competitiveness.  Trust me, I’m doing everything I can to win.  But until I’m on that start line, I like to keep the mood light.  So I see nothing wrong with using some top 40 pop hits to help me feel that way.

Finally Call Me Maybe came to an end and it was time to get on the water.  My dad met me and we carried my boat down, through boat control and to the dock.  He didn’t say a lot, at this point all the work had been done.  He just told me to go fast, move the boat like I know how to, and reaffirmed that I could indeed do this.  It was all I needed, and I was pushing off and heading up the lake for the start line.  I did my pre race warm up drills, and was feeling confident and ready to go.  I was nervous for sure, but I knew that was a good thing and that the nerves would disappear as soon as the gun went.  The paddle up seemed really short, and before I knew it I was circling above the start line with 7 other guys.  I looked at them all, knowing that I’d beaten them all before, and that they had all beaten me.  It was going to be a great race and I was pumped to be in it.  That’s when I heard over the loudspeaker, Adam van Koeverden, silver.  I knew I was probably going to hear how he did, but had been trying very hard to focus on my own race and warm up. I hadn’t even heard who won, but when they said his name my mind caught it I guess.  I knew he wanted to win, but also knew that silver was an amazing accomplishment for him, especially against such a strong field of guys.  I thought to myself that if he could get a medal, so could I, and maybe I could even do one better.  We had done almost all of the same training the last four years, our whole lives really, so if he could get on the podium, why not me.

The 5 and 3 minute to start warnings came quickly, and I started approaching the starting line.  I reached down and rubbed the Oldershaw sticker on my boat for good luck.  I hadn’t planned to do this or thought about it before hand, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  They announced the lane assignments as the camera boat drifted across the front of our lanes.  Hearing your name followed by Canada is always a big rush, no matter how many times you hear it.  A few slaps to my face and legs and it was into the starting blocks.  The starter had been very fast all regatta so I was ready to go as soon as the nose of my boat was in the gate.  The nerves were now in full force and I just wanted the race to start.

Ready. Set. Go!

In fact it’s more like a beep, not the word go, but that’s what went through my head.  GO! GO! GO! And I was off.  I had a good first few strokes and was out where I needed to be.  I found my travelling speed, making sure to not slow down too much.  Sebastien Brendl of Germany and Mathieu Goubel of France were just to my left, and they took it out really fast.  I knew that was their race plan, so it didn’t faze me, I stayed in my own boat and kept my own pace, knowing that if I was going to beat them, it was going to be in the last 250m.  All I was thinking about the first half of the race was moving the boat, every stroke was just trying to be as efficient as possible, and I was able to stay in touch with the leading guys.  I remember being quite calm, my body almost on autopilot, years of training taking over.  After around 400m I was starting to feel it.  Even though I was pacing myself, it was a fast race and I knew I needed to break through the first wall of pain or I was going to get too far behind.  It was coming up to half way and I remember having a moment of doubt, just for a split second, about whether I could do it or not.  At that point of the race your body is already telling you to stop, it wants to rest or at least take it easy.  Funny things go through your head sometimes in races, and I remember saying to myself, “my mom raised me to be tough, not to quit when it got hard”.  And that’s all it took, I knew I had to go, there was no holding back now, this was what I’d been training for my whole life.  This was the make it or break it moment.  I put everything out of my mind and just went for it.  I picked up my stroke rate and started to make up ground on the field.  I knew it was going to take a while, so I just kept pushing and pushing.  With about 350m left the grand stands started, and I could hear the roar of the crowd pushing me on.  It wasn’t a clear sound, kind of just like background noise, completely surrounding me.  I was also starting to go a little bit blind.  It’s not a dark blindness, more like a white haze; all I could see was the nose of my boat, and movement to either side.  I could tell that Brendl was still ahead of me, but not much beyond that.  The last 200m were extremely hard, I was literally just trying to take as many strokes as I could and not drop the paddle.  David Cal of Spain came up on the right of me, somehow taking what seemed like twice as many strokes as me.  I tried desperately to fight him off and then stay with him, but my body would simply not move that fast.  The last 50 m I had no idea where I was except that two guys were ahead of me and I couldn’t see where anyone else was.  As I crossed the finish line I immediately looked left, half expecting to see 4 more guys already across the line, but there were none!  The shock of it hit me fast; I couldn’t believe I’d just won a medal at the Olympic Games.  I’ve had a lot of comments about my expression as I crossed the line, and all I can say is that I really didn’t know how to react, it was literally a dream come true.  It’s not that I wasn’t expecting to do well.  I went into the race trying to win and knowing I was as good as any of them on any given day.  It wasn’t the shock of coming third in the race that affected me; I’d come third, even won against those guys before.  It was coming third at the Olympic Games that put that look on my face when I crossed the finish line.

I can say there was no pressure on me going into London, but of course there was.  I think I did a good job of dealing with it, to be honest I kind of just forgot about it all and tried to have fun.  But it was there, and when I finished my race it was all released.  It was gone, just like that.

All those years of close calls, of 4ths and 5ths and not quite enough.  Missing out on the final in Beijing by a fraction of a second. A long line of Canadian success in C1 that I always felt I hadn’t quite lived up to.  Going to World Championships where I was the only Canadian canoeist to not get a medal.  People back home telling me that this was my year.  Three generations of my family competing at the Olympics, but still without that elusive medal.  A best friend with 4 Olympic medals, the best Canadian paddler of all time.  Representing an amazing Canadian Canoe Team that helped me train all year, knowing that I was their chance at a medal.  Winning the Junior Worlds but never quite finding the same magic at the senior level.  Having an injury that held me back and made me question if I would ever go to the Olympics at all.

All these things were in my mind at one time or another, and they were as hard as any physical barrier to overcome, much harder in fact.  But looking back, they were the things that made me stronger.  They were the things that made me push that much harder in the second half of my race, made me keep going even though I had no idea if I was 3rd or 8th going into the finish line.  I haven’t had the perfect career that I dreamed about when I was a little kid, but the harder the road the more rewarding it is getting to the finish.  A good friend of mine wrote a song called Stones on the Road.  “The roads got stones, to trip up your toes, if it goes down hill that’s how it goes, the dust it blows, and you may get cold, and if you can take it just goes to show.”

There are always things that are going to hold you back, get in your way, trip you up.  But if you keep on going, get back up no matter what, the road will smooth out eventually, and you’ll be that much better for it.

I think that’s where I’ll end things.  The podium was AWESOME, but I’ll leave that for another time.  Thanks for reading if you got this far!

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Heading over

Published on July 22, 2012, by

And we’re off! The day has finally arrived, and we’re heading over to Europe for out final preparation camp before London. We just had a team reception with some guest speakers, the Canadian Olympic Medalists of Olympics past. John Wood (’76 silver), Larry Cain (’84 gold, silver), Alwyn Morris (’84 gold, bronze) and Steve Giles (’00 bronze) regaled us with tales of their races and inspirational words. Basically they all had the same message: you’ve put in the work, just stay rested and focus on your race, everything else will take care of itself. It was great to hear them talk but even better to just sit and chat with them about training and racing and life in general. These guys were all heroes of mine growing up, and they’ve inspired me throughout my career, including today. That being said, what struck me most when I was in the room with them today was the fact that while they are all extraordinary athletes, they’re also in a lot of ways just regular guys. Regular guys who had a goal and put in a ton of hard work to achieve it, and put it all together when it counted. I looked around at our team and realized that we’ve all done the first part; it’s time for us now to do the second part. Of course in a lot of ways that is the hardest part, but I’m confident in our team and the work we’ve done and I am excited for the coming weeks. So I’ll have to cut this short, Gab has been distracting me and now our flight is about to board, but I’m excited to get to France and rest up and stay focused!

Jason, Mark, Hugues, Mark, Alwyn, Ryan, John, Adam, Steve, Larry

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Lake Placid

Published on July 9, 2012, by

The canoe team just arrived back in Montreal after a very successful and enjoyable regatta in Lake Placid.  After two good, hard weeks of training we were rewarded with some great racing, winning 15 of the 18 medals in the Open Mens Canoe category.  C1 1000m was at the end of a long first day, but it was still a great opportunity to get another race in before London.  I had a great start, but as usual Ben pushed hard in the middle to get ahead, with Gab and Paul right on our heels.  I didn’t have a lot of energy left in my legs, but was able to stay close enough and come up with a strong finish to get the gold.  The course on Mirror Lake was really nice, and it was a great atmosphere around the regatta. Teams from around the world came to compete and there were some very close and exciting races.  I’ll definitely go back there again and encourage other clubs, provinces and countries to do so as well.  On sunday we went up Whiteface mountain and were Coinstar point rewarded with some amazing views of the area, as seen in this picture taken by Paul.

We’re now back in Montreal for one more hard week of training before heading home for a rest.  The third week in a hard training cycle can be tough, but we have a great group that push each other hard every practice.  Below is some video of the canoe team, 1000 and 200 group, doing some sprints last week.  Jason McCoombs (Olympic entry in C1 200m) and I are on the far side, with Paul, Gab, Ben, Aruss, Roland and Marc rounding out the field.

Canoe Team

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Training Camp in Montreal

Published on June 25, 2012, by

Over the weekend we had our second set of National Team Trials here in Montreal.  Because I’m already qualified for London there was nothing on the line for me, but I decided to race anyway just to get another one under my belt.  It was a tough race, and after a blistering start by Gab, Ben pushed in the middle and I didn’t have the energy to go with him.  He paddled a great race and threw down a great time of 3:54, and I held on for second.  I think a lot of people didn’t know how to react to that, I guess as the Olympic entry I’m not supposed to lose to another Canadian.  But to be honest, it really didn’t bug me that much.  All it means is that I have a really fast training partner!  The best in the world to be honest.  Ben has pushed me all year and is a big reason for my success.  None of my competition have World Cup medalists to push them in training leading up to the Games, and I see that as an advantage I have over them.  Not to mention the rest of my teammates who are all here in Montreal for a training camp to help me train for the Olympics.  It means a lot to me that they are all willing to help me out, and any success I have in London will be our teams, not just mine.  We’re going to put a lot of hard work in the next few weeks, and I know we’ll have a lot of fun doing it!  Summer Moneygram money transfer in Montreal is always a blast, and while most of our time will be spent on the water, in the gym and in our beds, an occasional dinner on the patio or listening to some live music is always a nice distraction.

Today was a day off of training to do some Olympic orientation and a press conference at the Lachine Canoe Club.  It was the first time our Olympic team had gotten together as a group (minus our champ AvK), and you could really feel the excitement in the group.  We have a small team this year but it’s strong one.  Everyone seems to be in a really good state of mind and I’m excited to see how well we can do!  Here’s a picture of us with our new Olympic Team jackets.

Where’s Adam???

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My new website!

Published on June 12, 2012, by

Hey everyone!
Just launched my new website here at oldershaw.ca. Basically it’s a place where I can share some thoughts(in more than 140 characters) and let people know what’s happening on my road to London. It seems crazy that there are now less than 50 days until the Games begin, time has certainly flown by this year, but it’s been a great journey so far and I’m looking forward to the last push this summer.
After a month and a half of racing our Olympic Trials and 3 World Cups, I took last week to rest and recover, but it’s now back in to full on training mode. There is still some hard work to be done to get ready to race in August, and a few races later this summer to get myself in race shape. I’m lucky to have a great team of guys that have agreed to train with me this summer to help me prepare, and I’m looking forward to a good, hard and fun training camp in a few weeks with them. With their help I know I’ll be able to really push myself and get to where I need to be to challenge in London.
Speaking of help, the amount of support Moneygram money transfer I’ve received this year, especially in the last month or so, has been incredible. I would like to give a HUGE thanks to all my friends, family and sponsors who have supported me in so many ways. I wouldn’t be here without you.
So I hope you enjoy the site, I’ll try to update it as often as I can, and you can also follow my twitter account @markoldershaw

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