Russell, Spence, MacKenzie, Hughes focused on Tokyo 2020 chances

Cheema athletes, including Olympic hopefuls Michelle Russell; Marshall Hughes; and Sloan MacKenzie, surround coaches Mike Kerrivan and Anna Hetzler prior to a training session on Oct. 10 on Lake Thomas in Waverley. The three, along with Craig Spence, have a shot to land with the Canadian team pending positive results at trials in April 2020. (Healey photo)

Waverley-based club has potential to land four athletes on Canadian Olympic team

WAVERLEY: For those who think there’s an “off-season” for top competing canoe and kayakers, think again.

Unlike traditional sports like hockey, baseball, and basketball, being a competitive canoer and kayaker on the waters of Canada is a year-round sport.

That’s why despite fall and winter approaching, Cheema athletes Sloan MacKenzie, Michelle Russell, Craig Spence, and Marshall Hughes continue to do their twice daily, 10-times a week training at the Waverley-based club.

While the colder weather coming means no on water training, that doesn’t mean they’re not at the club, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, training in the weight room. The athletes also head south to Florida for training with the club.

“I’m going to try and push myself harder this year to get better results this year,” said Sloan MacKenzie.

The athletes at Cheema warm up Oct. 10 prior to their on the water training session under the tutelage and watchful eyes of coaches Mike Kerrivan and Anna Hetzler. (Healey photos)

Russell had an up and down season, with the downside being her broken collarbone to begin the year. But qualifying the K4 boat for Tokyo turned the season around.

“It’s a big weight off your shoulders, a lot less stress,” said Russell, of Fall River on knowing the K4 boat was qualified. “I have to go to the first set of trials in April in Georgia and the K4 team is picked from those results.”

Hughes said it wasn’t the best of his season as he wasn’t fully involved with the world championship team, however his season turned at the Pan Am Games.

“I had a great result in tying one of Canada’s best results they ever had there,” said Hughes. “It gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.”

Because the four are on the Canadian teams radar—with the potential to land spots for the 2020 Olympic games next year in Tokyo—they will head to Florida for training with Team Canada. They will join their mates from Cheema in Florida again in March 2020 for their last tune up before Canadian Olympic trials happen in April.

MacKenzie has earned an invite to train with Olympic athletes, which could lead to her being on the squad.

“I think it’s a rally great opportunity for me to train with them and it’s a really good environment,” she said. “I’m super excited to go.”

The athletes at Cheema warm up Oct. 10 prior to their on the water training session under the tutelage and watchful eyes of coaches Mike Kerrivan and Anna Hetzler. (Healey photos)

Hughes had an interesting perspective on whether or not he makes the Olympic team.

“Four Canadian athletes that I’ve trained with, that I’ve grown up training with, will be going so whether or not I go, I will be super excited for whoever does go,” said Hughes. “I know I am going to be part of helping them succeed or them helping me succeed.”

MacKenzie said she’s training 10 times a week, including before and after school at Lockview High, and once on Saturdays.

“It’s a lot to handle between school work with me being in Grade 12 and having a heavy school course load, but I’m managing the best I can,” said the 17-year-old Fall River resident.

She said if she were to make the Olympic team for Tokyo 2020, all her dreams would come true.

“I never thought this experience would happen, especially this past summer,” she said. “I was simply hoping to make Junior Worlds and I would have been satisfied with that. If I were to make the Olympics that would be crazy.”

Hughes said if the club landed all four at the Olympics, it would be quite the accomplishment.

“If Cheema had a representative at every discipline at the Olympics, it would be incredible,” said Hughes. “It really shows how a small town like Waverley and an incredible job Mike Kerrivan and Anna Hetzler have done here. The amount of talent that is developed at Cheema is incredible.”

Russell said there’s lots of training on and off water this fall and winter, including a team skiing trip. She said she’s focused on working to make the team.

“Based off last year, my focus is to break less bones. That’s a good start,” said Russell with a chuckle. “I just need to get bigger and fitter.”

Do athletes like Hughes ever get an off-season?

“No, no definitely not,” said Hughes with a laugh.

If she did make the boat for Tokyo,m what would it mean?

“I think it would validate all the work that I’ve put in to this one thing, and have it pay off,” said Russell.

She credited Cheema for the support she’s received.

“I couldn’t have done any of this without them,” she said.