Invictus Games special: rowing for Canada
Top image credit: Getty for The Invictus Games Foundation
In the Autumn issue of Fitpro magazine, we interviewed UK athlete Craig Winspear. Here, we hear from Canadian athlete Caroline Cauvin, who will be competing in her home nation at the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto.
FitPro: What does being involved with the Invictus Games mean to you and why did you decide to compete in the indoor rowing discipline?
Caroline Cauvin: For me, the Invictus Games means finding a purpose to being active again. I had to find an individual sport that could suit my injury and also one that was motivating and challenging. The part I enjoy the most about indoor rowing is that it never gets easy; it is such a challenge, but yet so very rewarding once I have completed a workout.
FitPro: What was your involvement with the military?
CC: I started in the Navy in 1997 and served for five years on HMCS Ville de Québec. I served in a NATO tour, many fishery patrols, Swiss Air, and was part of the Boarding Party for three of those years. My feet took a toll from the sea boots we wore and I ended up having left foot surgery in 2001. My right foot was also due for surgery but I managed to hold it off for quite a few years, even after transferring to the Army in 2003. After being a runner my whole career, to never run again hit me hard and sent me into a deep depression. I had several surgeries on my right foot in 2014 and I have now been told that I have to live with pain management due to a neuroma in my right foot. The Games have helped me find a new way to get fit, have a physical purpose and reach for a goal again. Although I cannot do what I was once capable of doing, I’ve found ways to get that passion again. My goal now is to get back into fitness, and dedicate my life to helping injured soldiers to adapt and continue in active living, or even just living. I want to speak for those without a voice and guide them in the direction that is best for them. I feel that this could actually be the biggest role I will ever play in the military.
FitPro: What role had sport played in your life prior to injury?
CC: Running had been a big part of my life for more than 15 years. It was my de-stressor, my way to remove my daily stresses and make me feel good about life in general.
FitPro: Can you tell me more about your injury and your rehabilitation journey?
CC: I had foot injuries involving multiple surgeries over the years that left me with neuroma and chronic pain. I was told I could no longer run, which took a big toll on my life. I have slowly been trying to cope and adapt with the new ‘me’ and how to continue my life with this life-long condition.
FitPro: How has the indoor rowing machine been modified for when you compete? What time/distance are you aiming for?
CC: I have adapted my rowing technique to push off from my heels and not go too far forward to bend my toes – this is where my injuries are. I also place foam over my foot so that the strap does not irritate the screws on top of my foot. Racing in a rowing competition is extremely hard, harder than I could have ever imagined. For the 1-minute race, it’s literally giving everything you have for one minute of your life; even if you are about to be sick, you just keep pushing. For the 4-minute race, it’s a bit more strategic, with more planning and at a steady pace, until the last 45 seconds and then again you give it all you have. My goals for now (three months prior to the Games) are, for the 1-minute race: 310 metres, and for the 4-minute race: over 1,000 metres. I still have three months to train and hopefully these numbers are realistic for me.
FitPro: How has your training been structured to pay close attention to improving your speed, power and endurance?
CC: We have been training on our own and with the help of our coaches who send us our training plans online. We come from all over Canada and we were only able to meet twice before the Games. We have excellent coaches and staff who have made it as easy as possible for us to chat on Facebook, exchanging workouts and results. Our training plan is very specific to work our speed, power and endurance, with proper techniques and plans to work up to the level we should be at by the Games.
FitPro: What would an average training session look like?
CC: Normally we try to row 4-5 times a week, but also have different workouts, such as legs, cardio, back and shoulders. All of those workouts are needed to help with speed, endurance and power. The time spent on the rowing machine varies on what we are targeting. I have spent 10 minutes to one hour and more, so it really depends what we are working on in that specific session. Our two training camps were a week long with intensive, but constructive, training sessions. In terms of strength for me, my focus was definitely on the power in my legs.
FitPro: What does it mean to you to be competing in the Invictus Games in your home country? What has the support been like in the lead up to the Games?
CC: Just the fact that we are competing in our own country on Canada’s 150th anniversary is the most incredible privilege and honour that a person could ask for. We have been supported by so many peers, friends, family, even strangers who are so excited about the Games. It is an absolutely incredible feeling.
FitPro: Can you tell me more about your coach?
CC: Our coach, Steffa MacLintock, has been amazing and very creative with her training plans. She is always ready to adapt to support everyone’s needs. Being spread all across our vast country makes it very difficult to reach each and every one of us, but she manages to at all times. She’s even made some games and little intern competitions at times to make it more fun.
What does Caroline’s coach say?
“If there is one person who can truly do it all, it’s Caroline Cauvin,” says Steffa MacLintock. “Caroline is a dedicated mother, wife, friend and teammate who continues to impress me with her level of dedication, not only in her own training and perseverance through hardships, but with her ability to ‘be there’ for her teammates. New to rowing, she will obviously have her own trials and triumphs. Through nothing short of trial and error she was able to find a comfortable way to row, which is a hard task to accomplish when dealing with foot injuries.”
MacLintock added, “Not once would you find her wallowing or using these setbacks as a reason to ‘take the night off’ or quit. She would always approach me with a new plan of attack. ‘What if I …’ she would fill in the blanks with new ways to get a solid workout that would benefit her sport. Be it spending 40 minutes on a step treadmill then working on her leg endurance, or completing spin bike sprints, Caroline does not let minor setbacks stand in her way. Her grit and strength of mind will serve her well over the next few months leading to the 2017 Toronto Games. She has provided me with a lot of great insight into military culture, and the support she has given me has allowed me to deliver better training camps and programmes.”
FitPro: Do you think there needs to be more support for those individuals who are in the forces?
CC: In Canada, we have so many different programmes to support ill and injured members who are serving. We have a great programme called Soldier On that helps ill and injured serving or retired members to get active again through sports or recreational activities. Canada is always looking for new ways to improve how it can help with the quality of life for our serving members. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect system because there is always room for improvement, but for the most part we are very fortunate.
FitPro: Is there a moment or an athlete from a previous Games that has really stayed with you and you think depicts the Invictus legacy?
CC: I have the pleasure of competing in the Games with a Canadian athlete, Natacha Dupuis, who won medals at last year’s Games in Orlando. She has been my inspiration and she is the reason I applied for the Games.
FitPro: Are you going into the Games with a competitive attitude to win?
CC: I am competing to win, but winning medals does not mean winning for me. Winning for me is to do my own personal best, share those moments with my teammates, my family and friends, and represent my country. I feel like I have already won. I’ve made it this far – from off my couch, back to being active and fighting to be the best I can be, with the only expectation to keep moving forward and accepting my limitations.
FitPro: Finally, what are your sporting goals for the future and are there any other competitions that you have set your mind to?
CC: I would like to try rowing on water after the Games. A few of us would like to gather a team in our region and see if we can try some competitions.
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