It was only a year and a half ago when Ella-Rose Duval first picked up a paddle and decided to join her local rowing club. Now, at the age of 16, she is one of the youngest members on the Quebec rowing team and just competed in this year's 2022 Canada Summer Games in both the 8 and pairs in sweep categories. Hosted in Niagara Falls, the Canada Games is the country's largest multi-sport event. It represents the highest level of national competition for up-and-coming athletes, and for some serves as a steppingstone to the Olympics.
Inspired by the 2020 Tokyo Games
In fact, it was watching the Olympics that first got Ella-Rose intrigued with rowing and encouraged her to sign up for an initiation program for new rowers.
Once she watched the 2020 Tokyo Games, she knew she was ready to try something new. "Rowing is more about your mental game, it's very physical but it's not just cardio and strength, it's also about how hard you can push yourself."
While there were many restrictions at first due to the ongoing pandemic, once things began to open up at the beginning of the year Ella-Rose was able to take her training to the next level and focus on more serious competition.
Long days and hard training to prepare for the Games
Tryouts for the Summer Games started in December of 2021, which included an extensive series of challenges and drills over the course of 5 weekends.
Finding out she was one of 13 females to make the team had her ecstatic, it was biggest race she had participated in yet and she was eager to experience the highly competitive atmosphere.
To prepare, Ella-Rose and her team began training almost everyday, at least 6 days week. Starting her 3-hour practices at 6 a.m. each morning, she had to wake up at 4:50 a.m. due to her commute. Her parents played a large roll in this, taking turns to drive her to Montreal each morning, and on some occasions, for a second practice in the afternoons.
For her mother Suzanne Perron, it was well worth it. "When your child wants something, you put the effort to fulfill it to your best. It's important for us to not push her but encourage what she wants to do. We are always there to support her dreams."
Leaning on her support system
Though Ella-Rose loves rowing, she does have to make sacrifices due to its time commitment. One of the hardest things for her is not having a lot of time to spend with her school friends. However, she's grateful to have built strong friendships with her rowing team. "It makes the sacrifices worth it, we have such a strong connection we've become like a family."
As a younger member of the team, her older teammates have played an important role mentoring her and helping her navigate such a high-performance sport. With the support from her team and help from her parents, she's been able to successfully manage her time between training and school, maintaining a remarkable 98% average.
Finding motivation in challenging times
"My motivation is seeing how far I can push myself and take on new challenges, like the Canada Games. If I can reach that level, what else can I do?" said Ella-Rose.
Someone she looks up to, that motivates her to continue pushing herself, is Team Canada's Marilou Duvernay-Tardif, who recently competed in the 2022 World Rowing Cup 2. "She is someone who really inspires me, she's so strong mentally and is always trying to top herself, something I aspire to."
Ella-Rose is always thinking about the next step. Now that she's competed in the Canada Games, she's looking forward to what else can she achieve. For her, it's all about progress. Now she has her sights set on attending University in the United States and advancing in the sport.
Despite having only one year of experience when she decided to try out for the Quebec team, taking the chance led her to race at the highest-level of competition in the country. For other youth interested in taking on a new sport or activity, she encourages them to not be afraid and just go for it. New experiences can seem daunting, but Ella-Rose embraced the process, it helped her push herself and she's learned a lot in the process. "Rowing has taught me so much, especially around discipline. It's one of the main values I've learned from it that I've been able to apply to my everyday life, even outside rowing."
Ella-Rose left the Canada Games with new friendships with athletes from across the country and a renewed inspiration to continue to work hard and train.