This week 25 athletes were selected to receive ongoing support through RBC Training Ground – a program designed to help sport officials uncover Canadian athletes with Olympic podium potential.

It’s been quite a journey for these talented youngsters. RBC Training Ground kicked off in February 2016 with four athletic combines hosted at Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute (COPSI) Network facilities across the country. Four-hundred athletes, ages 14-25, were put through their paces. Of that group, 94 athletes met the testing benchmarks set by participating national sport organizations, punching their ticket to the next stage of the program.

Phase two took place over a series of months as the identified athletes took part in sport-specific testing – essentially a try out in front of high-performance directors and national team coaches in each of their respective sports. For athletes like Kieanna Stephens, the Vancouver combine winner, this meant swapping her hockey skates for oars as she tried her hand at rowing. Other athletes were tapped on the shoulder to participate in a high-stakes, accelerated tryout within the sport that they already competed in at a high-performance level.

Sprint kayaker Madison Mackenzie and sprinter Andre Ford-Azonwanna are among the 25 athletes identified to receive funding and support through RBC and the Canadian Olympic Foundation (COF). Both Madison and Andre aspire to represent Team Canada at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Photo: Yann Roy

Photo: Yann Roy

Madison used the support from RBC Training Ground to relocate from her hometown in Chelsea, Quebec to Quebec City, where Canoe Kayak Canada has a high-performance hub. The 21 year-old is now training alongside two-time Olympians Hugues Fournel and Ryan Cochrane.

💀😊

A photo posted by Maddy MacKenzie (@madstermack) on

“I’m trying to learn as much as I can from the more experienced paddlers. Men have a different approach to training from what I’m used to, but when it comes to putting everything together on race day – they know how to get the job done,” says Madison. “Between seeing how they train everyday and how strong they are, to how they mentally prepare for races, it’s inspiring and it’s been so valuable to me as a developing athlete.”

It's snowing, it's pouring but us paddlers aint snoring ❄💦

A photo posted by Maddy MacKenzie (@madstermack) on

In addition to motivation and mentorship, Madison has gained access to a sport psychologist. She says it’s made a big difference in her performance.

Support from RBC has allowed Andre to train full time at the Athletics Canada East High Performance Hub at York University. With a goal of running in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the 2017 IAAF World Championship, he needs a complete daily training environment to get there.

Photo: Mike Palmer Photography

Photo: Mike Palmer Photography

“Amateur athlete needs care and funding to help them improve,” says Andre. “RBC is helping me travel to training camp and competitions, and it helps me to get the nutrition and therapy that I need. If it wasn’t for RBC, this year would have been really tough for me. But with the support of this program, my goals feel more closer, more achievable.”

Andre and Madison aren’t the other athletes ID’d by Canoe Kayak Canada and Athletics Canada.

“Canadian rivers and lakes freeze, so off season (winter/spring) training in Florida is very important for us,” says Ian Miller, Communications and Marketing Officer, Canoe Kayak Canada.

Thanks to RBC Training Ground, five other promising next generation paddlers will now be able to spend more time on the water year-round, a crucial step to keep pace with other nations.

“The funding from RBC means that these younger athletes can now make it south for this training, stay longer and eat better while there,” added Miller. “It also means the athletes who earned this funding will get extended periods of time on the water with great coaches, and will get to the types of international competitions we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to send them to at this early stage of their development.”

On the track, Andre is one of six athletes benefiting from the program.

“Because of how they performed at RBC Training Ground events, these young athletes have earned the type of support needed to help them get to the Olympic level,” says Carla Nicholls, Lead of High Performance Athlete Development, Athletics Canada. “Each of these athletes exceeded our benchmarks at these events. They all had different circumstances and back stories, but what they all had in common was talent. We knew a boost in support could get them over the hump to a carded level.”

See below for the full list athletes selected to receive additional assistance such as funding, resources, coaching and/or mentorship through the COF and RBC.

ATHLETE

IDENTIFIED SPORT

HOMETOWN

Christophe Normand

Rugby Men’s

Bromont QC

Colin Phillips

Rugby Men’s

North York ON

Caleb Jordan

Rugby Men’s

Lasalle QC

Andre Ford-Azonwanna

Athletics

Toronto ON

Pierce LePage

Athletics

Whitby ON

Roland Dodoo

Athletics

Oakville ON

Jellisa Westney

Athletics

Cambridge ON

Tania Bambi

Athletics

Gatineau QC

Peter Collier

Athletics

Lower Sackville NS

Patrice St-Louis Pivin

Cycling

Sherbrooke QC

Kieanna Stephens

Rowing

Surrey BC

Emma Gray

Rowing

Winnipeg MB

Trevor Jones

Rowing

North Kawartha ON

Gabrielle Smith

Rowing

Montreal QC

Marilou Duvernay Tardif

Rowing

Saint Jean Baptiste QC

Tyler Adams

Rowing

Victoria BC

Cody Bailey

Rowing

Dartmouth NS

Marc Tarling

Canoe

Pointe-Claire QC

Liam O’Brien

Kayak

Dartmouth NS

Scott Braddon

Kayak

Ottawa ON

Tom Hall

Canoe

Dartmouth NS

Alanna Bray Loughheed

Kayak

Oakville ON

Madison MacKenzie

Kayak

Chelsea QC

Sarah Clancy

Bobsleigh

Toronto ON

Jeff McKeen

Bobsleigh

Ottawa ON

National sport governing bodies who participated in RBC Training Ground included Athletics Canada, Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, Canoe Kayak Canada, Cycling Canada, Rowing Canada and Rugby Canada. The 2017 RBC Training Ground combine dates and participating sports will be announced in early January.