As the world gears up for the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Sarah Black won’t just be watching team Canada – she’ll be part of it.
At 22, this Western University student pulled her way onto the Canadian Olympic rowing team for this year’s summer games.
But while the Olympics is one of the biggest competition of her rowing career, balancing an elite athletic career with being a student has had its own challenges.
“Being in the highly competitive environment of the training center has taught me to commit to the team and to myself while trusting my teammates to commit to me as well, and being confident in myself.” —Sarah Black, psychology student, Western University
Sarah first got into rowing through a high school program that allowed her to test the waters and, once she started, she simply didn’t want to stop.
“I fell in love with rowing immediately,” she says. “There was something about it that spoke to me and it brought a feeling that I really wanted to chase.”
And chase it she did. While she completed high school in Ottawa, Sarah quickly moved up the ranks of the local rowing club and, in her final year, was selected for her first international racing experience as part of the Canadian CanAmMex team.
Rowing became a huge part of Sarah’s life and, when she left high school to start university, she wasn’t about to leave her sport behind.
She needed to find a post-secondary institution that not only had the right academic program but also the right rowing program for her. The combination of these two factors is what landed Sarah in London. London, Ontario that is. In the fall of 2007, Sarah began her undergraduate degree in psychology and started training under Canadian national team coach Al Morrow at Western.
“School and rowing have always been a close marriage in my life at Western,” she says. But like any marriage, this relationship required a few concessions – especially when she began training at the Olympic level.
“Training is a full-time commitment, with three to four sessions a day for six days a week,” she says. Between coursework and training, Sarah says she discovered that the only way for her to do well both on the water and in the classroom was for her to lessen her course load. To keep up her grades while she was going for the gold, Sarah took fewer courses each semester and also online courses during the summer semesters putting her on track to graduate by the end of this year.
Besides pushing for that golden time, Sarah says one of the biggest challenges of training for the Olympics and being a university student has been finances. Finding employment outside of rowing is not really a viable option for rowers, she says, and while she was able to receive support from the Canadian government, not all high-level athletes are so lucky.
Though she hasn’t been in the workplace recently, Sarah says that the skills she’s developed on the water have helped her both in school and professional environments.
“Rowing is a sport that demands extreme teamwork and commitment, and being in the highly competitive environment of the training center has taught me to commit to the team and to myself while trusting my teammates to commit to me as well, and being confident in myself,” she says. “ These attributes I’m able to take with me into any scenario outside rowing.”
Training hard to develop these skills is how Sarah made it onto Canada’s London 2012 women’s eight crew as a spare. Unfortunately, due to funding issues, she’ll be cheering on her team from Canada unless an injury or illness prompts her to be flown across the pond.
“It’s hard to feel a part of a team that’s across the ocean when I am training here in London, Ontario, but it’s still very exciting for me to have gotten this far and be an Olympic spare,” says the newly appointed Olympian.
Though she’ll likely be rowing in London, Ontario, instead of London, England this summer, this Olympian says that this is just the beginning. After the games, she plans to continue to row in the hopes of competing in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I train so hard for the opportunity that one day I will be able to give back to my country the pride and excitement I feel to be Canadian,” she says. “Going to the Olympics and representing my country would be the greatest honor and privilege I can imagine.”