BY BERNIE PUCHALSKI and DON RICKERS
bpsportsniagara.com / voice correspondent
With rowing on the water largely halted by the Covid-19 pandemic, when selecting the athletes it would send to the Junior Rowing World Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, August 11-15, Rowing Canada had to: take a different approach.
Interested athletes were asked to submit two-kilometer ergometer values in order to determine who would be invited to the selection camp. This process couldn’t have been a better method when it came to the national aspirations of Shane Keagan, a 12th grade student at Ridley College.
The summary of the 17-year-old Fonthill resident includes consecutive Ontario and Canadian titles in the men’s 2,000-meter U17 division at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships, a 2021 Canadian title in the men’s 500-meter U19 championship . Meter division and a bronze medal at the World Indoor Rowing Championships in 2021.
Seven men were invited to the selection camp at the Ontario NextGen Performance Center in Welland and all seven were told that they would be participating in the worlds in Bulgaria. Canada is sending a single, pair, and quad bike, including Keagan, Adrian Breen from the Don Rowing Club, Giancarlo DiPompeo from the St. Catharines Rowing Club, and Payton Gauthier from the Niagara Falls Rowing Club.
Joy wasn’t the overwhelming feeling when Keagan heard the news.
“It was a huge relief because it’s a lot of work,” said the Ridley Graduate Boat Club member. “I didn’t expect to ever be selected for the junior world, so even in the summer I had made training and work plans. It was a lot of flip-flops when they asked me to come to Welland and train with them. “
The 6-foot-3,200 pounder admitted being stressed out with exercise.
“It’s a whole other level and it was a great relief to know that I did it for something,” he said. “When it was in the air when we left it was, ‘Why am I so tired and why do I exercise five hours a day?’ at this moment.”
This training was a blessing for his development.
“It’s about finding the next level. It was eye-opening training because everyone there is a superstar, regardless of which club or school they come from. They bring us all together and tell us we need to take it to the next level. It threw me back. “
Mary Rao, local trainer for the South Niagara Rowing Club and Brock University, works with Keagan’s crew to prepare for the World Championships.
“The guys have really teamed up over the past few weeks and worked to make sure they hit their speed goals before we leave for Bulgaria,” she said. “Shane balanced his summer job and rowing training, which makes it even more challenging.”
The guys have really teamed up over the past few weeks to make sure they hit their speed goals before we head off to Bulgaria
A graduate of AK Wigg Public School, Keagan said his decision to attend high school at Ridley College in St. Catharines was “a last-minute decision, based largely on the academic program.”
He said that one of his friends down the street was also visiting Ridley, “so everything went well with carpooling.” Citing Ridley’s “amazing facilities,” Keagan added that he is often at school until 9pm and attends evening classes on campus after his athletic engagement is over.
Rowing is one of the main sports in Ridley, whose teams have competed in the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) championships since 1968 and have won awards in Canada, the United States, and England over the years. More than a dozen Ridley alumni have participated in the Rowing Olympics.
Keagan looks forward to doing something special at Junior Worlds.
“It’s just the opportunity in itself and I’m very happy that I have the potential to do something.”
Wearing a Canadian undershirt and having the Canadian flag on your blades will be exciting too.
“Oh, definitely,” he said with a laugh. “You can throw that in there too.”
He did not come up with any specific goals for the worlds.
“I have no idea. I never thought that I would be selected at all.”
Keagan began rowing at Ridley College in September of his 9th grade, and won the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association gold in the junior eighth and bronze in the ninth grade juniors four the following spring.
His last race on the water was at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in 2019.
“I tipped the single in the preliminary stages,” he said with a laugh. “I was doing very well and I was satisfied with my performance up to around 1,000 meters.”
Keagan’s accomplishments come as no surprise to Lisa Fucile, a retired Niagara teacher who Keagan had as a student at AK Wigg.
“He was clearly very smart, but he also had a mind of his own.
He worked extremely hard, both academically and athletically. It’s just amazing to see what he’s achieved. “
Keagan looks forward to a long career in rowing.
“I plan to row through the university, and depending on how successful I am there, that of course decides where I end up. It would be great to possibly hold an Olympics one day. “