Sudbury

Meet a Sudbury student who is making waves in Canadian rowing

If you were to ask Charlie Alexander a few years ago if he could be competing in the Olympics, the answer would have been a resounding "no."

Laurentian University rower Charlie Alexander is well on his way to compete in the Olympics

Charlie Alexander of Sudbury attended a RBC Training Ground regional final in Toronto, and earned himself funding support from RBC to pursue an Olympic dream — in rowing. (RBC)

If you were to ask Charlie Alexander a few years ago if he would be competing in the Olympics, the answer would have been a resounding 'No.'

The 20-year-old Sudbury resident was invited to take part in the RBC Training Ground, a series of cross-Canada talent search events designed to bring undiscovered talent into the Canadian Olympic pipeline. At a final event in Toronto, Alexander exceeded every elite, Olympic-level benchmark for power, strength and endurance.

Alexander didn't take up rowing until 2016, when he was recruited on Laurentian University's campus for the varsity rowing program.

"My now-coach hunted me down during frosh week ... and she pulled me aside and said we should give rowing a try," he said.

Alexander didn't give the idea much consideration, as he had no intentions of becoming an athlete while at university. But when she showed him details from an Olympic development program, his interest was piqued.

"Once she showed me that, I decided that maybe what she was saying wasn't crazy and I should listen to her and take this opportunity," he said.

"So ever since that day, everything has changed 100 per cent."

Alexander attended an RBC Training Ground event in Milton, Ontario this past summer. He was then asked to attend the regional final in Toronto. At the Toronto final he impressed the judges with his athletic performance. His height and wingspan — Alexander is 6'8" and has a wingspan of more than 7 feet — also met rowing's elite anthropomorphic benchmarks.

"Being named strongest male at the RBC Training Ground regional final event in Toronto, when there were so many amazing athletes competing, is the most important achievement of my career so far," Alexander said.

Charlie Alexander's results in the RBC Training Ground finals in Toronto were amazing, and earned him 'Future Olympian' funding from RBC. Alexander is pictured here with Curt Harnett and Karina LeBlanc, two former Olympians. (RBC)

Landing key funding a help

It's been a steep learning curve for the young man, who hails from Fergus, a small town in southern Ontario. Alexander grew up playing AAA hockey, and naturally took part in volleyball and basketball, because of his height. They were sports he enjoyed, but never had any plans to become a world-class athlete.

Now he's training about five hours a day, along with working on his undergraduate degree in outdoor adventure leadership at Laurentian University.

"[Coming up] I've got the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships," he said. "And in February I'm going back out to Victoria for yet another Team Canada integration camp with the men's senior national team."

Doing so well in the RBC program earned Alexander some sponsorship funding. The support will help pay for things like travel, international competitions, coaching, equipment and nutrition associated with being part of Rowing Canada's development program.

This year RBC will be providing more than $300,000 in support to RBC Training Ground identified athletes. The program is run in partnership with CBC Sports.

"To get funding from anyone is great, but funding from a large name like this brings a lot of social media attention and support to me as an athlete," Alexander said.

"It's a huge confidence booster and a huge stress reliever as well."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Bird

CBC Sudbury

Wendy Bird is a journalist based in Sudbury who specializes in topics of concern to northern Ontario. Reach her at wendy.bird@cbc.ca, and on Twitter and Instagram @bendyword.

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