A hockey player who becomes a track cyclist. A gymnast who takes up freestyle skiing. A kayaker who realizes he has already found his sport.
These dreams are all made possible through RBC Training Ground.
On October 22, 100 young athletes aged 14-25 came together in Ottawa for the 2022 RBC Training Ground National Final. They had earned their places at this full day of athletic testing by virtue of their performances in qualifying events where high performance leaders from nine National Sport Organizations (NSOs) were keeping their eyes out for future Olympic talent.
It was a jam-packed day with multiple testing activities across four key pillars – power, strength, speed, and endurance. Coming out of it, 30 of the participating athletes will be selected as RBC Future Olympians and receive funding to help with expenses such as equipment, nutrition, and competition fees. This assistance can be a key difference maker in helping athletes take the next step in their careers – including to the Olympic Games.
Through the first six years of RBC Training Ground, 13 alumni have become Team Canada Olympians and seven of them have won Olympic medals.
“Power is key for us,” Jeff Bean, the aerials head coach at Freestyle Canada, said of the testing done via RBC Training Ground. “Our sport lasts anywhere from 2.8 to 3.3 seconds in the air, so having that really fast twitch power is very, very important.”
Having previously identified Marion Thénault, who transitioned from gymnastics to be part of the first ever team aerials Olympic bronze medal at Beijing 2022, Bean is hopeful to see the same sort of success in Louis Groleau – potentially opening up another avenue for recruitment.
“Having a male come out of this program, coming into aerials is actually fabulous for us,” Bean said. “We have had ex-trampoline and gymnasts come in, but with having a male, hopefully it will draw up more interest and talk within other acrobatic communities and athletes retiring from those sports will come and try aerials and see how they like it.”
“At first I was doing gymnastics and then with RBC Training Ground they got me into aerials skiing,” said 16-year-old Groleau, whose dad registered him for a qualifying event. “It was a good progression because you are already learning the flips and everything and in aerials it’s basically flips again.”
It’s not surprising that Groleau’s goal is to go to the Olympics and he is determined to work hard to get there. While work ethic isn’t something that can exactly be tested for, it is something that NSO representatives look for in the talent they scout.
A “really positive attitude” and resiliency are two intangible qualities vital to being an elite aerialist, says Bean, who noted that flipping 50 feet up in the air doesn’t always go as planned.
“It’s harsh conditions. You’re jumping into water in the summer, snow in the winter. You have to really have a passion for sport and love to do it…. I want someone who can get through the hard days.”
Groleau recognizes that drive to keep going in himself.
“If you don’t sacrifice for your dream, your dream becomes a sacrifice,” Groleau recalled a quote he had heard while also revealing he has received some first-hand mentorship from Thénault who came from his gym.
Her advice? “Give everything you’ve got. Opportunities like this are incredible, so make the most out of it. Be really open minded and open to discovering new sports.”
At age 15, Thadeaus Jaden is already in that mindset.
“I wanted to improve myself as an athlete in all aspects,” he said. “I see RBC Training Ground as a great opportunity to do that. I would be interested in trying a new sport to get to the Olympics. If they think I have potential, I would have to take that opportunity.”
Erica Rieder, 25, is another athlete seeking a second chance in something new.
“I played hockey my whole life and I saw a video of Kelsey Mitchell winning gold which inspired me to get after my dream of getting to the Olympics,” Rieder said of the RBC Training Ground participant-turned-track cyclist-turned-Olympic champion, all within four years. “I want to go fast and have fun. Hockey is an explosive sport and I am a track sprinter so that’s the biggest similarity between the two sports.”
In 2017, Avalon Wasteneys attended an RBC Training Ground regional qualifier event and surprised herself by being on the leaderboard for the endurance test. Fast forward four years and she was sitting in the stroke seat for the Canadian women’s eight that won gold at Tokyo 2020.
“The endurance test is the most important for us today, along with anthropometric measures. Who can go the longest and who can dig deep to go the longest after the minute mark,” said Chuck McDiarmid, the NextGen Program Lead at Rowing Canada Aviron (RCA). He is always on the lookout for athletes capable of pulling an oar at top speed over a distance of 2000 metres – the length of international courses.
Standout track and field athlete Pierce LePage took full advantage of the program during the inaugural 2016 season. Looking for a way to gauge how he was recovering from an injury, he entered the first ever RBC Training Ground regional qualifying event in Toronto and turned heads by winning it outright, putting him on Athletics Canada’s radar. LePage used the funding and support from RBC to fuel his performance into a fifth place finish in the decathlon at Tokyo 2020 followed by a silver medal at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.
Following in his footsteps a year later was sprinter Jerome Blake, who turned his RBC Training Ground selection into a silver medal in the 4x100m relay at Tokyo 2020. Less than a year later, he became a world champion in the event.
“I was just so fascinated and indulged in track and field and I wanted to expand on that a little bit more. And I’m super happy I did that because it really put me in a position where I’m at right now,.” he said.
Maël Rivard is a more recent graduate of RBC Training Ground. The slalom paddler was named among 30 RBC Future Olympians in 2021, receiving $7,500 to support his development with Canoe Kayak Canada.
“I am meeting a lot of inspirational people and having the support to go further in my sport has been super helpful,” he said. “I was already training for kayaking going into the program but it was super cool to level off with people from all different sports and to test my abilities against theirs.”
Whether an athlete is sticking to the sport that got them to an RBC Training Ground qualifier or taking the leap of faith to start something fresh as an RBC Future Olympian, the advice from those that have been there before is essentially the same, according to Wasteneys.
“Just get out there and have fun and try to keep that Olympic spirit.”
Blake adds: “Be yourself and just be the best you think you can be and just work your hardest and see what the outcome is because at the end of the day, you don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
Since its inception in 2016, RBC Training Ground has tested over 12,000 athletes across Canada, with more than 1600 of them being identified by NSOs as having Olympic potential – many in a sport they had never considered. RBC is a national leader in identifying, supporting, and developing the next generation of Canadian Olympians.
You can watch a special broadcast of the 2022 RBC Training Ground National Final on TSN on December 5, following the Toronto Raptors game at approximately 10 p.m. ET. It will also be available on RBC’s YouTube channel starting December 6.