Our Olympians: Rower will ‘splash and dash’ for podium

Nanaimo's Tony Theriault is in London to race in the coxed mixed fours 1,000-metre rowing race.

Nanaimo’s Tony Theriault and the rest of his coxed mixed fours crew is making a return trip to the Paralympic Games

Nanaimo’s Tony Theriault and the rest of his coxed mixed fours crew is making a return trip to the Paralympic Games

A 1,000-metre rowing race, in some ways, is like a lot of Olympic and Paralympic events.

It’s the culmination of four years, and a lifetime. And then it’s over in a flash.

“It’s a start and a finish,” Tony Theriault said. “One thousand metres is sort of three and a half minutes of splash and dash.”

Theriault, 51, is in London, competing in his second Paralympic Games. He and his coxed mixed fours team placed sixth in Beijing, but Theriault didn’t get to keep his spot in the boat just because of his experience – he had to earn his place, again.

“It was a tough decision to commit another four years. I’m a little bit older and I didn’t want to put in four years to be kicked out at the last second,” he said. “But in the same respect, it’s four years to prove that someone my age can still be competitive and there’s a spot for anyone out there who wants to give it a try.”

Theriault, who went to school in Harewood, developed a passion for sports with the Nanaimo Track and Field Club and went on to be a highly ranked triathlete. It was while he was out cycling, training for a triathlon, that he was hit by a speeding car.

He didn’t regain all his mobility, but discovered he could excel at rowing. And he rowed his way onto the 2008 team.

“The hype, the international flavour, the villages are so different than anything else that you experience through the rest of the competitive season that it just naturally escalates and gets pretty darn exciting,” he said.

In the weeks leading up to London, he was feeling that again.

“I don’t think you can ever not be in awe,” he said.

But he and his teammates can be awestruck without being intimidated. Theriault’s crew won silver at last year’s world championships, and knows it’s a contender.

“Hopefully … we’ll harness the speed and use the excitement of the Games to propel us toward the podium.”

GAMES ON …Tony Theriault has his first heat at 3:30 a.m. on Friday (Aug. 31) and the finals are slated for Sunday (Sept. 2) at 2:30 a.m. … Michelle Stilwell, a wheelchair sprinter from Nanoose Bay, races the 200m on Saturday (Sept 1). Qualifying is at 7:51 a.m. PST with the finals at 12:24 p.m. She then races the 100m Sept. 5.


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