Shane Keagan, on the dock at the south course of the Welland International Flatwater Centre. DON RICKERS

Shane Keagen discovered crew in Grade 9

BY BERNIE PUCHALSKI and DON RICKERS
bpsportsniagara.com / Voice Correspondent

With on-the-water rowing mostly halted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Rowing Canada had to take a different approach to choosing the athletes it would send to the World Rowing Junior Championships, in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, running August 11 to 15.

Interested athletes were told to submit two-kilometre ergometer scores in order to determine who would be invited to the selection camp. That process couldn’t have been a better method when it came to the junior national aspirations of Shane Keagan, a Grade 12 student at Ridley College.

On the resume of the 17-year-old Fonthill resident are back-to-back Ontario and Canadian titles in the under-17 men’s 2,000 metre divisions at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships, a 2021 Canadian title in the under-19 men’s 500-metre division, and a bronze medal at the 2021 world indoor rowing championships.

Seven males were invited to attend the selection camp at the Ontario NextGen Performance Centre, in Welland, and all seven were told they would be attending the worlds in Bulgaria. Canada will send a single, pair and a quad, that includes Keagan, Adrian Breen of 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 overriding emotion when Keagan heard the news.

“It was big relief because it is a lot of work,” the Ridley Graduate Boat Club member said. “I didn’t expect to ever be selected to go to junior worlds, so even going into the summer I had made plans training-wise and work-wise. It was a lot of flip-flopping when they asked me to come out to Welland and train with them.”

The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder admitted to being stressed out with the training.

“It is a whole other level, and it was a big relief to know that I had done it for something,” he said. “When it was up in the air if we were going, it was, ‘Why am I this tired and why am I training five hours a day?’ at that moment.”

That training has been a boon to his development.

“It is finding that next level. It has been eye-opening training because everyone there is a superstar at whatever club or school they are from. They are putting all of us together and telling us we have to take it to the next level. It knocked me back.”

Mary Rao, who is a local coach for the South Niagara Rowing Club as well as Brock University, is working with Keagan’s crew, in preparation for the world championships.

“The guys have really been coming together over the last few weeks, working to ensure that they hit their speed targets before we leave for Bulgaria,” she said. “Shane has been balancing his summer job and rowing training, which makes it even more challenging.”

The guys have really been coming together over the last few weeks, working to ensure that they hit their speed targets before we leave for Bulgaria

A graduate of A.K. Wigg Public School, Keagan said his decision to attend high school at Ridley College in St. Catharines, “was very much a last-minute decision, based primarily on the academic program.”

He said that one of his friends from down the street was also attending Ridley, “so it all worked out nicely with carpooling.” Keagan referenced Ridley’s “amazing facilities,” and added that he is often at the school until 9 PM, participating in evening study on campus after his sports commitment is completed.

Rowing is one of the marquee sports at Ridley, whose crews have been competing in the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association (CSSRA) Championships since 1968, and have won accolades in Canada, the USA, and England over the years. More than a dozen Ridley alumni have competed in rowing at the Olympic Games.

Keagan is looking forward to getting a chance to do something special at junior worlds.

“It is just the opportunity itself and I am really excited that I have the potential to do something.”

Wearing a Canadian singlet and having Canadian flag on his blades will also be thrill.

“Oh, definitely,” he said with a laugh. “You can throw that in there too.”

He hasn’t come up with any specific goals for the worlds.

“I have no idea. I never thought I would even be selected.”

Keagan started rowing at Ridley College in September of his Grade 9 year and the following spring he captured Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association gold in the junior men’s eight and a bronze in the junior men’s four in Grade 9.

His last on-the-water race came in 2019, at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.

“I flipped in the single during the heats,” he said with a laugh. “I was doing quite well and I was happy with my performance up to about 1,000 metres.”

Keagan’s achievements come as no surprise to Lisa Fucile, a retired Niagara teacher who had Keagan as a student at A.K. Wigg.

“He was clearly very bright, but also had a mind of his own.

He worked tremendously hard, both academically and in his sports. It’s just amazing to see what he has accomplished.”

Keagan is looking forward to a long career in rowing.

“I plan on rowing through university and depending how successful I am there, obviously that will determine where I end up. It would be great to potentially do an Olympics someday.”

 

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