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'Math nerd' among young athletes to test Olympic potential in St. Catharines

For young people with Olympic dreams, Saturday's RBC Training Ground event was a chance to get noticed.

RBC Training Ground event was chance to find a 'needle in the haystack'

Jacob Martens is a varsity rower at Brock University, a member of the Rubik's Cube club, plays intramural sports and works part-time at a floral shop. He's also a math and statistics major. He got to 13.7 on the beep test and pulled 290 kg on Saturday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Jacob Martens, a 20-year-old varsity rower at Brock University, pulled more weight than anyone else at the RBC Training Ground in St. Catharines on Saturday: 290 kilograms.

But he's also a math and statistics major — and can solve a Rubik's cube in 18 seconds.

"I'm more of a math nerd," Matens said, with a grin.

Martens dreams of making the Canada rowing team, and says his math background helps with training. He's a member of his school's Rubik's Cube club, plays intramural volleyball and ping-fpong, and works part-time at a floral shop. 

"I like surprising people. I'm not the stereotypical jock," he said.

Martens was one of 67 young athletes who stretched their physical limits on Saturday at the RBC Training Ground event in St. Catharines, which CBC partners on.

Many of these young people have dreams of qualifiying for the Olympics — and Saturday's event was a chance to get noticed.

William Lockwood running the beep test on Saturday. He plays sports recreationally, but said he wanted to see how he compares to other young athletes. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Finding 'needle in the haystack'

"We're trying to find the needle in the haystack," said Stephanie Jameson, who works with Canadian Sport Institute of Ontario.

She said the institute hopes to find young people with athletic potential — perhaps in a sport they've never tried before.

The participants, ages 14 to 25, completed four basic tests: a vertical jump, a 30-metre sprint, a thigh pull to test strength, and an exhausting endurance running evaluation known as the "beep test."

As athletes completed these tiring exercises in the Brock University gym, they were encouraged by cheering onlookers.

"Keep going!" someone yelled, amidst the athletes' streaming sweat and pounding feet. 

Competing in aunt's memory

Rachel Browne, 20, competed in honour of her late Aunt Debbie, who passed away from cancer last April.

"She was very athletic," Browne said, tears in her eyes.  "She loved golf, she loved tennis...So I wanted to be a 'little Debbie' for her, and pursue all her dreams for her."

Rachel Browne, who just turned 20, participated at the event in honour of her late aunt. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Browne, who's from Burlington, dreams of making the national soccer team, but also hopes to pursue physical education for children with special needs. 

She currently participates in a program every week, through Brock University, where she plays sports with children who have special needs.

"It's so cliche, but they teach me more than I could ever teach them," Browne said. 

The power test measures how high athletes can jump. (Laura Howells/CBC)

RBC Training Ground has 32 events taking place across Canada this year. The top 100 athletes from these events will be invited to the finals in September, and the best will receive funding for training.

Time running out?

Sports are purely recreational for William Lockwood, a 22-year-old Kinesiology student. He plays on intramural teams, but wanted to see how he compared to other athletes.

Turns out, he's not bad.

Lockwood ran the 30-metre sprint in 4.19 seconds. "Running away from my problems, really" he joked.

William Lockwood, 22, plays intramural sports at Brock University and studies Kinesiology. (Laura Howells/CBC)

He said he tries to apply what he's learning in Kinesiology to his personal workouts, and hopes to become a professional athlete.

But at 22, he said he feels like his "time is running out."

Aside from sports, Lockwood said he hopes to pursue physiotherapy. 

"Back-up plan: a massage therapist in Cuba." 

Just a blur. A young athlete sprints the 30 metre speed test at Brock University on Saturday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Athletes competing in Tokyo

Sledge hockey player Tyler McGregor, hockey player Becky Duke, and spring canoeist Mark Oldershaw were a few of the top athletes at the event giving advice and encouragement. 

McGregor said they saw some "tremendous" performances, including one young man who scored a 13.9 on the beep test.

Ontario athletes Tyler McGregor, Mark Oldershaw and Becky Kellar Duke gave advice and encouragement to the young hopefuls. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"It's nice to be on the other side of fitness testing for once," McGregor said, smiling.

This is the fourth year for the RBC Training Ground, and Jameson said they're starting to see results. 

A handful of people, who were discovered through past training ground events, may compete in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, Jameson added.

'I'm proud of myself'

Isabella Ruse was one of several participants who's still in high school.

Ruse, 16, is a rugby player — she aspires to be on Team Canada.

"I love the aggressiveness of the sport," said Ruse, who's from Cambellville. 

Right now she plays for the Niagara Rugby Union and Team Ontario, and says rugby is one of the best experiences of her life.

Isabella Ruse, 16, is a high school student at Hillfield Strathallan College. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Ruse, who also plays basketball and volleyball, said she was surprised by how fast she sprinted on Saturday: 30 metres in 4.7 seconds.

"That was shocking and I'm proud of myself," she said — it was two seconds faster than earlier this year.

What were her plans for the rest of the day Saturday?

"Probably taking an ice bath and a shower and eating a lot of food."