Three years ago, South Surrey teenager Kieanna Stephens was an aspiring hockey player who was tagged as a potential Olympic rower through the RBC Training Ground program.
She had never rowed before, but after impressing with her strength and athletic ability at the Training Ground event – which aims to identify young athletes with “hidden talents” for Olympic sports that may not otherwise consider – decided to give it a try.
Now, the 19-year-old Earl Marriott Secondary grad is a key member of the University of Washington Huskies rowing team.
“I did not have a clue what rowing was. I knew it was on the water and you paddle a boat, but that’s it,” Stephens said.
Stephens – whose older brother Devante, 22, is a prospect with the Buffalo Sabres and former star with the major-midget Valley West Hawks – is one of the success stories of the RBC Training Ground program, which on Sunday returns to the Langley Events Centre for another year.
The program, which launched in 2016, is open to athletes between the ages of 14 and 25 and is held across the country. This year, other Training Ground events were held in Prince George, Victoria, Richmond and Kamloops.
After that inaugural event – at which Stephens won a five-day trip to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for her top performance – the young athlete was quickly targeted by Rowing Canada.
“The Rowing Canada representatives did a very good job explaining the sport and why I would be a good fit based on my results,” Stephens explained.
“(And) it gave me a boost of confidence when they compared my scores to people who were on the national team at the time. They saw a lot of potential in me, so I gave it a shot.”
It didn’t take long before Rowing Canada’s investment in Stephens began paying dividends. In 2017, she has won Canadian Junior Worlds trials in the singles event, and also captured a bronze medal in women’s double sculls at World Rowing Junior Championships.
She was also named Rowing Canada’s junior female sculler of the year, and later moved on to the University of Washington, where she just completed her freshman year.
Stephens – who also played softball before concentrating on rowing – said she is now solely focused on qualifying for an upcoming Olympics.
“Rowing is the most painful sport, mentally and physically, that I have ever done, but it makes it that much more special and exciting,” she said.
“One of my goals is to go to the Olympics, maybe even 2020, even though I’ve only been in this sport for three years. But in this sport, it’s hard to stop craving more and I want to see what I can accomplish with my time in this sport.”