Rower golden at Pan Am Games

The Canadian men’s eight rowing team, including Nanaimo's Martin Barakso, won gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto.

Pan Am Games gold-medallist rowers Tim Schrijver

Pan Am Games gold-medallist rowers Tim Schrijver

The Canadians simply couldn’t be caught. Not in front of that kind of crowd, roaring for the men’s eight rowing team to reach the finish line first at the Pan American Games in Toronto.

The Canadians came through, winning gold medals July 15. They had a really good start, said Nanaimo’s Martin Barakso, one of the team members, and they were able to keep their rhythm and hold off Argentina and the U.S. down the stretch.

“That was probably the most incredible race I’ve been a part of,” Barakso said. “There were so many fans watching … From 500 metres left, you could just hear everybody cheering and it was the loudest cheering I’ve ever heard. You cross the line and we all just threw our arms up and looked at the crowd and everybody was just going crazy.

“Being able to win that race at home was a pretty special thing.”

And part of a special summer for the 20-year-old. The Princeton University student-athlete finished his college rowing season with a trip to the U.K. and the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta.

Then it was on to the Pan Am Games July 10-26, where he got to take in the opening ceremonies and be part of the whole big-event experience.

“The atmosphere at these multi-sport games is on such another level,” Barakso said. “Just being around everybody else, you just get so inspired.”

Even now, with a gold medal, he remains motivated. Barakso is currently training in Guelph, Ont., trying to make the national team for the next world championships. The youngest member of the Pan Ams eight is still U23-eligible, but finds himself training with Olympic veterans. It’s intense, he said, and it’s good for his development.

“It’s huge. I’m learning so much every day and just being around them and seeing their work ethic, hearing the stories they have, it’s really motivating me to keep pushing,” Barakso said.

His former pairs partner, Tim Schrijver, has moved to fours, and Barakso is working with a new pairs partner, Mike Evans. They’re the only pairs team, so as long as they can post fast enough times, they’ll make worlds, and a top-11 finish there could lead to the Olympics.

“Being able to be a part of these new races and these new experiences and these new teams, it’s pretty amazing to see all the hard work pay off…” Barakso said. “You have it in the back of your mind all the time and you’re working towards it and then when it actually happens, it’s pretty special.”

Other locals at the Pan Am Games included Nanoose Bay’s Mike Mason, who earned silver in high jump, and Katelynn Ramage, who was 12th in the 20-kilometre race walk.