Rowing

Canada's quad sculls team rowing for Pan Am, Olympic podium

Carling Zeeman, Kerry Maher-Shaffer, Kate Goodfellow and Antje von Seydlitz will be in the hunt for a medal in quad sculls at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and are favourites for gold at next month's Pan American Games.

Zeeman, Maher-Shaffer, Goodfellow, von Seydlitz gold-medal favourites in Toronto

From left to right, Canadians Kerry Maher-Shaffer, Kate Goodfellow, Antje von Seydlitz, and Carling Zeeman are favourites to win Pan Am gold in the women's quad sculls. ((Rowing Canada))

It's a couple of hours into a typically long and gruelling day on Fanshawe Lake for Canada's women's quadruple sculls team.

Time and again they row into a fierce wind, but never waver in their unison — the perfect picture of precision and immense power.

And if their bodies are screaming, their faces say nothing.

"Rowers are conditioned to be almost in a zen-like state, to relax as much as possible, so they never really look like they're working that hard. But they are working very hard right now. It's tough slogging," said longtime Canadian coach Al Morrow.

Their slack faces are emotionless masks.

"The focus is very internal right now," Morrow said. "We actually tell them to let their jaws drop, and that tends to relax the neck and face a lot. It's like a good opera singer will have a very relaxed face, you won't see the tension in their neck or in their eyebrows or anything. Same thing in rowing."

Carling Zeeman, Kerry Maher-Shaffer, Kate Goodfellow and Antje von Seydlitz will be in the hunt for a medal in quad sculls at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and are favourites for gold at next month's Pan American Games.

Canada has fared well in the event recently, winning silver at the 2013 world championships and a World Cup silver last season, but its last Olympic medal was a bronze in 1996 in Atlanta.

Zeeman and Co., have been logging long hours on the lake in order to change that. Even in the dead of winter.

John Keogh, who left warm and sunny Australia to become head coach of Canada's women's program in 2010, says the women stayed on the lake until Christmas before the frigid temperatures chased them to Florida.

There were mornings, Keogh said, they'd have to send a boat ahead to break up the ice. There was one morning when the quad crew came to a dead stop. Keogh, his hair a frozen mass of icicles, called out to them to find out the problem. They hollered back that the mechanics of the boat had frozen. They were literally frozen in place.

"It's kind of bragging rights, we get out there in that weather and then we can brag to everybody. . .how we were out there in the coldest weather and no one else was out there," said Maher-Shaffer.

Typical day

A typical day sees them up at 6 a.m. for their first of at least two, and often three, sessions on the water. When they're not on the water, they're in the gym or out riding their bikes or running.

"You set multiple alarms because you know you're not going to get up on the first one," said Goodfellow.

"But the racing and everything makes it all worth it. You remind yourself of that and then drag your ass out of bed," Von Seydlitz added.

How do they spend their down time?

"We sleep and eat," Maher-Shaffer said, laughing.

"Movies are like a crazy night out," Zeeman added. "If we can stay awake."

"Matinees are prime," said Von Seydlitz.

They lean on each other during the really tough days.

"Oh yeah, you look around at your teammates and you can see that they're in the same hole that you're in," said Von Seydlitz, a 24-year-old from Smithers, B.C.

"Or you think you're having a rough day and you show up and see someone who looks way rougher than you," added Goodfellow, a 25-year-old from Perth, Ont.

"Bloodshot eyes. Can't walk. You're thinking 'At least I'm better than that person,"' said Zeeman, gesturing with a thumb.

"There's a funny progression too where when everybody gets kind of fatigued, it starts with a little bit of nattering back and forth, then it turns into laughter, then uncontrolled laughter, then you know the tears are coming soon," said Maher-Shaffer, a Welland, Ont., native. "And once the tears happen, you know anything can happen.

"We even laugh when it's happening. But it's a great feeling too because then you know you've pushed yourself to the limit."

Maher-Shaffer and Von Seydlitz will compete in the women's double sculls, while Zeeman, from Cambridge, Ont., will row in the single scull.

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