While many Olympians start their sport at an early age, Carling Zeeman is still fairly new to her craft.
“I saw a ‘learn to row’ sign when I went to my first day of university,” said the 25-year-old. “And I thought, ‘why not?’ I dragged along some of my classmates. It looked like a good time. I ended up getting a lot of friends there and I stuck with it.”
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While Zeeman was athletic growing up, playing volleyball, running track and speed skating, she had never rowed until 2009 at Sudbury’s Laurentian University. Now, seven years after hitting the water for the first time, the Cambridge, Ontario native is preparing for her first Olympic Games.
For Zeeman, it was her early struggles in the sport that made her want to keep going.
“My first year, I did it purely for social reasons. My classmates came out with me and I made a lot of friends and it just became a social thing. We would just go there after a night out and drag our butts to practice. I had come from a couple of different sports where I was used to excelling and winning. When I first got into the singles in 2010, I did not win at all. I was actually last almost every single race and it irritated me. That kind of lit the fire for me.”
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It didn’t take long for her to find success, though. In 2011 she won the under-23 single sculls event at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. In 2012 she won bronze in single sculls at the world under-23 championships and followed that up with a silver the following year.
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Zeeman made her senior world championship debut in 2013, teaming up with Emily Cameron, Kate Goodfellow and Antje von Seydlitz to win silver in the quad sculls. The following year, Canada’s quad sculls squad won a silver in Lucerne and finished sixth at the world championships.
Last year, Zeeman moved back into single sculls and earned a Rio 2016 spot with a sixth place finish at the world championships. She also won two gold medals at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games – one in singles and the other in quad. Earlier this year, Zeeman won singles gold at the first world cup of the season.
“Obviously I love the singles because I’m in it,” said Zeeman, who will be Team Canada’s only single sculls competitor in Rio. “But there’s something pretty special about being in the crew boat and being so in synch with your three other teammates in the quad situation. In the single it’s different because it’s only you. If you do well, it’s you. If you mess it up, it’s you. I sort of like that part about it. Especially knowing that when I’ve done something it’s me and my hard work. All of my hard work is just a reflection of me and there’s never a question in my mind of who is to blame or who’s to praise.”
Rowing will take place August 6-13 at Rio’s Lagoa Stadium.
What advice has Zeeman been given heading into Rio 2016?
“They said to prepare to be unprepared. I don’t know what that means but I’m prepared to be unprepared.”