“Dream big” and be “passionate” about whatever you do.
That’s the message Canadian Olympian Mark Oldershaw had for students at Holy Name of Mary School Thursday morning.
Oldershaw, who won a bronze medal in the 1,000-metre canoe sprint at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, was making an appearance as part of the RBC Olympians program.
“Believe in yourself and you can achieve your dreams,” he told approximately 250 students. “Find your own Olympic dream.
“Dream big, and you are all capable of achieving your dream in whatever field you choose.”
Oldershaw, 31, comes from a long line of Olympians. The Burlington native is the fifth member of his family to compete at the Olympic Games. His grandfather Bert, uncles Dean and Reed, and father Scott all competed in canoeing/kayaking, but Mark is the first member of his family to win a medal.
As a youngster, Oldershaw said his parents always encouraged him to play several sports. But he said he was always “passionate” about canoeing and always dreamed about competing for his country at the Olympics.
Oldershaw started “seriously” training to be an Olympian when he was 16.
A setback occurred prior to the 2004 Summer Olympics. He has two surgeries for painful tumours in his hand and wasn’t able to qualify for the Games in Athens. At the time, he was one of the top Juniors in the country, but didn’t know if he’d ever be able to paddle at an elite level again.
However, Oldershaw persevered and continued to “chase his dream” and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Games. He said he was “overwhelmed” and fell behind and was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Oldershaw was “really disappointed” but he soon realized that he wasn’t the only athlete who didn’t reach the final and win a medal.
He said he tried to learn from his mistakes and from the experience, and began to make plans for 2012. Along with his coaches, he put together a four-year plan with his goal to make it to the podium in London.
“Step by step, this was how we were going to get there,” Oldershaw said. “In life, you’re going to have your failures,” he told the students, “and it’s important to learn from them.”
Working as a team and getting great support from his Canadian teammates, Oldershaw won the national trials which qualified him for the 2012 Olympics.
He notes that only three Olympic medals are awarded, and he wanted to be on that podium.
Oldershaw said the Olympics can be a lot of fun and inspiring, and the athletes meet many amazing people from around the world.
He said all his planning, hard work and training came down to executing on one particular day, and he was able to qualify for the Olympic final.
On medal day, he remembers things were “very quiet” around the race course. Instead of being “nervous,” he said he was “excited” because he had done everything he could do to be ready for this race.
Paddling up to the starting line, he told himself that he had “nothing to lose and everything to gain. Put everything on the line and see what happens.”
Oldershaw remembers that his body was “aching” at 500 metres, and he was sitting fifth or sixth with 500 metres still remaining.
With 300 metres left, he said the cheering crowd created a very noisy atmosphere and he used it to his advantage. He put his head down, paddled as hard as he could and moved all the way up to second.
At 200 metres, David Cal Figueroa of Spain passed him, but he hung on to grab third and the bronze. Germany’s Sebastian Brendel won gold.
Oldershaw’s time was three minutes, 47 seconds for the 1,000 metres.
“My dream had come true; something I had dreamed about since I was a kid,” he said. “All my hard work had paid off. Hard work and planning pays off.”
Tom Miller, of Russeldale, donated a canoe paddle to the school last Thursday. Mark Oldershaw autographed it, writing: ‘To Holy Name of Mary. Follow your dreams and keep working hard to achieve them!’
--Oldershaw will be travelling to Russia this summer for the World championships. He won bronze at the 2013 World championships.
--He’s an eight-time World Cup gold medalist, and a 65-time national championship gold medalist (athletes can race in six or seven different events at nationals).
--Mark’s grandfather Bert Oldershaw finished fifth at the 1948 Games in London.
--Oldershaw is currently training in Oakville for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He spends three or four hours a day on the water practising.
“At this level, it’s pretty well a full-time job,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, 365 days a year on the water, twice a day. If you aren’t training every day, someone else is, and they’ll beat you.”
He also trains one month in Florida each year.
--His 2016 dream is the gold medal and hearing the Canadian national anthem afterwards.
--At the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, the canoeing/kayaking events will be held in nearby Welland.