'A crazy honour': Rower Emma Gray, 19, named Manitoba flag bearer for Canada Summer Games

Emma Gray, a 19-year-old from Winnipeg who only started rowing two years ago, has been named Manitoba's flag bearer for the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

Games opening ceremony set for July 28 in Winnipeg

Gray already has several national and international competitions under her belt. (Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba)

Emma Gray, a 19-year-old from Winnipeg who only started rowing two years ago, has been named Manitoba's flag bearer for the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

"I'm so proud to be able to represent every single person who's worked their little butts off—or big butts, depending on the sport—for however many months, however many years it's taken you to get here," Gray said. "It's just an honour."

Emma Gray is Manitoba's flag bearer for the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. (Aidan Geary/CBC)
The teen got into rowing in high school through the Row to Podium program, which seeks out young, inexperienced athletes to groom into rowers. She did it for gym credit

"It's one of those sports that you could be the most physically gifted athlete on the planet for that sport, but if you don't work your butt off day in and day out you're not going to get to the top," she said. "It's a very humbling sport."

Rowing is the "perfect mix" of individual and team dynamics, Gray said. Before she got on the water, she had a background in weightlifting and football.

Her older brother, Geoff Gray, is the 22-year-old offensive lineman drafted to the NFL's Green Bay Packers from the University of Manitoba Bisons.

"Having an older brother, I liked to do what he did and tried to do a little better than him," she said. "Every sport he played, I played too, just trying to beat him at something. Never worked—he got big on me."

Gray's coach, Janine Stephens, said she can't remember the last time a rower was chosen as flag bearer for the Games.

"For the sport, it's a huge honour, and I think all of her teammates are super supportive and just really looking forward to being along for the ride with her as well," Stephens said.

Emma Gray will carry the flag for in the opening ceremonies of the Canada Summer Ga mes. (Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba)

'Olympic-level potential'

On July 28, Gray will carry the flag for more than 300 Manitoba athletes at the opening ceremonies for Games.

Gray already has several national and international competitions under her belt and passed up an opportunity to compete at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships to represent the province in the Summer Games.

"[I] had some like, mental performance and personal things I just wanted to nail out before I went into that stage, so I just made the decision to bypass a year, slow it down and really work on myself and my own strokes," she said.

Team Manitoba chef de mission Barry Moroz said Gray "put her name on the map" for rowing during her first year in the sport, at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, where she earned gold and bronze medals.

Since then, she earned the national title in the junior single and under-23 single categories and the national record in the two kilometre and six kilometre races. She also represented Canada at the 2016 World Rowing Junior Championships.

"[Gray] was quickly recognized as having Olympic-level potential, even though she was a relative newcomer to the sport," Moroz said.

When the Games begin, she'll compete in sculling, rowing that uses two oars instead of one. She'll take part in all four categories: single, double, quadruple and eight-person boats.

Events begin on July 29 and wrap up on Aug. 13.