That Was Then, This Is Now

Published on May 22nd, 2017

Canadian Brenda Bowskill placed 16th in her Olympic debut at the Rio 2016 Games, and in this report she shares the experience and where the road has now carried her…


Some days the Olympics feel like a lifetime ago and other days it feels like just yesterday. Sometimes I can imagine the exact feeling of walking into the food hall and other days I have to remind myself that I was even there. People often ask me what going to the Olympics was like and even to this day I have a hard time putting it into words.

Did you feel a lot of pressure at the Games? Maybe. You must of been so proud to just have made it there? Some days. Did you enjoy yourself? Definitely.

One of my favourite parts of going to the Olympics was being on a team of amazing Canadian sailors, especially my best friend Erin. We joke that when we’re 70 years old and our Olympic ring tattoos begin to sag, we will be known as the bad-ass grandmas that once competed for Canada at the 2016 Olympic Games.

When you arrive at the Olympics, it is all business. You are there to do a job, a job you’ve been preparing for essentially your whole life. And you can feel the tension in the air. Everyone has their headphones in, people are working-out all over the village, not many people are venturing towards the dessert section in the food hall (although, McDonalds seemed to always have a line up… athletes love McDonalds apparently??).

But that is very much the vibe, people are there to get to work and win some damn medals. That is their only job, only focus at this point, nothing else. And that was me too.

While I was at the Olympics, something that holds a lot of magnitude and meaning, to me it was another really important regatta, just like the important regattas that got me there in the first place. I knew what to expect, another question I get a lot. Were the Olympics completely different than what you’ve experienced? No.

The only difference is I had to wear an ID badge all the time and wear clothes with Canada written as much as possible on them. I saw the same people I always see on the circuit, the registration process was essentially the same, I wore the same gear, brought my power bars from home. It was essentially another regatta. Competing felt very similar, it was everything else afterwards that was different.

Like probably many other Olympians (post-competition of course), I lived a life of staying up as late as possible, sleeping in almost every day, a diet of fruit loops and McDonalds, venturing to all the “hidden” sponsor houses (especially love the Beats headphones) and watching other fellow Olympians finish competing. I was venturing Rio with old friends, new friends, people I didn’t really know, my unbelievably supportive and amazing family, and taking in as much of the experience as I could.

Brenda (fourth from right) with her Rio teammates.

But my Olympic experience didn’t end when I left Rio. I came home to a lineup of events where Toronto-based Olympians were invited as guests of honour. I got to go on stage for the World Cup of Hockey and get a jersey, VIP guest at the Lenny Kravitz concert, throw the first pitch at a Blue Jays game, go to the Grey Cup, and be the guest of honour at my very own homecoming house party (this will go down in history as the best party Tyler has ever hosted) among many other things before diving back into school.

It is only for so long that you can live this life without responsibilities before your next goals in life begin to present themselves. Before the Olympics when I was making my course intentions for the following year, I thought I would be super keen to get back into my studies right after the Games and get as many credits done as I possibly could in the shortest amount of time. To say this change of pace was a shock to the system would be an understatement.

I’ve always kind of been a low-stress student and knew things would get done on time. Finding the mindset that I once had where I saw challenges as opportunities and hard workouts as improvements was really difficult to get back to. Some might call this the Olympic-blues or coming down after the high of the Olympics. I think every athlete has a different experience post-Games and I can’t imagine what that is like for everyone.

For me, there were definitely days where I thought I couldn’t get everything done in the 24 hours a day has to offer and sometimes things just simply felt hard to do. I was barely getting things done on time, had no energy or time to do things for myself, and wasn’t appreciating the little things. In the past, when I finished a really hard work out, I would be so proud that I finished and pushed myself. In this moment, after a hard workout I felt disappointed for struggling through it as much as I did. Sometimes it can be so hard to find perspective and appreciate how hard you are working. I did just finish a grueling workout after all – easy up will ya!!

Did I love my hiatus from scheduling and organization post-Olympics? Absolutely, but did I realize how difficult it would be to get back into a routine? Absolutely not. But after working away and knowing that I just had to get through the school year, I passed all my courses, even bringing my GPA up to almost honour roll (I have another year to get honours!!). And now it was time to start working towards my next Olympic campaign.

I started off the quad with a trip to my Miami winter base. Miami is arguably one of my favourite places on the circuit. It has such a cool vibe about it and I quite enjoy being there, probably making my intro back into Olympic sailing quite easier than say really cold and rainy sailing somewhere else in the world. I did a solid block of training there before competing in the Miami World Cup.

This regatta was a good reminder of how much focus high-level sailing requires. I had a shocker of a day on day 2 of the regatta where I would start races without knowing what phase the wind was in, no solid plan for the upwind, kind of hoping things would just go my way. And they didn’t always. I went home feeling super down on myself and it took a moment for me to realize that “wait, I’ve been here before, I know this feeling, I know how to bounce back and I need to bounce back because there’s another day tomorrow, another opportunity”.

I finished this regatta in 13th. I flew straight home to get back into school before traveling to another favourite place of mine, Mexico. Mexico is where it all began for me and sailing in warm weather and blue waters with the occasional whale sighting where we may or may not have to call for room-to-tack because we’re too chicken to sail over the whales. I never have any complaints about Mexico and I was starting to feel like my usual self; tackling some solid gym sessions and loving the time on the water.

A few weeks later I flew to Palma, ESP for my first European event since the Games. The island of Palma is absolutely gorgeous, but sometimes it can be cold, windy, and rainy. I packed all ranges of gear preparing for any condition Palma was about to offer us. Turns out Palma was nice to us and we had sun and good wind all regatta.

This was my first event with new coach Vaughn Harrison, co-founder of the International Sailing Academy in Mexico. We seemed to fall into rhythm fairly smoothly and began getting to work on nailing down some tactics and strategy, what I thought was an under-developed area in my last Olympic campaign. Now, I know what a lot of people are wondering, “what happened on the final day?!” I’ll try my best to explain.

We did a solid job analyzing the breeze and figuring out our priorities. In the first race, I made a mistake and had to do a 720 on the upwind leg. For anyone who sails the Laser (or any boat really), a 720 on the upwind leg is deadly. And it was. I rounded the windward basically in last but I fought back and capitalized on some downwind speed and a few shifts on the second beat to pass just over half the fleet. I finished that race like “phew – scrambled in that one, but gotta pull it together. We’ve got one more race”.

We got back to phasing the wind and figured out a solid strategy and I put myself in a place to take advantage of it off the start, however I forced a couple moves and rounded in a not-so-good spot. The fleet was on top of the shifts for the next leg and unfortunately I couldn’t salvage a good enough result to stop me from dropping down the score board. Was I disappointed? Ya, who wouldn’t be? Did I choke? Hmm… didn’t really think about it like that until a few people said it to me. But maybe I did.

I know some people dislike the saying “lessons learned”. You can’t keep repeating the same mistakes and saying well at least I learned. You make one mistake once and try not to let it happen again. For me, this was a lesson learned. Maybe, as subconscious as it is, going into the final day tied for 5th did have some effect on my decision making. But I haven’t gone into many final days in 5th. So for me, this was a learning moment and I know this will prepare me for many more final days that I’m entering high on the leaderboard.

The final day of Palma was sour, that’s for sure, but I was still awarded Sail Canada Helly Hansen Sailor of the Month for my performance in Spain. So leaving Palma with many positives and some working points, I went home to write my final exams for my third year of nursing school. (Yewww – one more year… which really is 7 months) and then I will be a registered nurse (stay safe people). Finishing up exams felt good as now I have 4 months to focus all my efforts on sailing. Next stop – Medemblik, Holland!

We’ve just finished up some great training here in Medemblik, which really is venue training as our Worlds which will be hosted here in August. This week I will be competing in the Delta Lloyd Regatta which is a great opportunity for some more racing experience in the Worlds venue. I have been to Holland many times in the past so I am building on a lot of previous experience here… however I am only currently learning that there can be nice weather here!

I packed one pair of shorts totally thinking they’d stay in my suitcase and never come out, but it has been sunny and warm for the most part, and the forecast is looking good too! (Ever heard of a 26 degree day in May in Medemblik before? Didn’t think so). I probably just jinxed the good weather, but either way there is some good racing in our near future.

Up next, I am headed Halifax to coach some of Canada’s next-gen athletes before heading to Kiel Week for our last competition before Worlds. Of course we have more training in there too!! That’s all from me (sorry for the long post but I guess its been a while)! Ciao for now!

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