By Josh Beneteau
When Brenda Bowskill was six years old, her parents enrolled her in a sailing summer program while they went to work. She didn’t mind — they already lived on their boat during the summer — but she never imagined that those classes would lead her to the Pan American games this July in Toronto and possibly the Olympics next year in Rio.
“I mean it’s not great for a story but I was never five and saying ‘I want to go to the Olympics,’” the Whitby, Ont. native says. “But progressively along the way I realized my potential and from there my goals went to qualifying for Pan Am and hopefully the Olympics.”
The 23-year-old, who is in her second year in Ryerson’s nursing program, qualified for the Pan Am games at the end of January when she was the top-seeded Canadian at the ISAF (International Sailing Federation) Sailing World Cup regatta in Miami.
Bowskill races in the Laser Radial class of boats, meaning she’s out on the water alone and responsible for everything from steering the boat to quickly reacting to changing wind conditions.
She says during the weeklong competition in Miami, she wasn’t nervous, but excited.
“When I did win the trials it was an in-shock moment,” she says. “I hadn’t really quite realized that I was going to be going [to Pan Am] and I think it will be another sur- prise when I actually get there.”
Bowskill says the sailing courses are “very dynamic” and that “it’s almost impossible to have the exact same conditions every time.” Boats race against each other in a reverse scoring system, with first place getting one point, second getting two and so forth.
“The weather is clearly unpredictable,” she says. “A lot of our sport is predicting, being able to recognize trends and set up for what you expect is going to happen.”
To prepare, Bowskill says she spends six days in the gym each week. She tracks everything she eats with an app on her iPhone and is in constant communication with her nutritionist and coach. It’s too cold in Lake Ontario to start train- ing right now so Bowskill and some of her teammates rented a house in Clearwater Beach, Fla., from November to February to train in the warmer weather.
With such a busy schedule, Bowskill says balancing classes can be a challenge. She has friends who help her with notes and all of her professors are aware of the opportunity she has with her sport.
“I never just didn’t do what I had to do,” she says. “And I actually enjoy the things I am study- ing so it doesn’t seem so much like work when I’m away.”
But the nursing program has a lot of placement work that is hard to schedule around. Before her second year, the nursing school suggested that she choose between sailing and school, which surprised her. So Bowskill enlisted the help of Ryerson athletic director Ivan Joseph, who made some calls and eventually got the nursing school to change its mind and let her take classes.
“I’m not asking for them to make it easier on me, if anything I’m asking for more flexibility and for it to be harder,” she says. “So [the athletics department was] really helpful this year and even the classes which I need a note for, they write me a note no problem.”
Bowskill is looking ahead to both the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. But with the Pan Am games only three months away, she says that is her main focus. She expects to have a lot of family and friends turn out for her races and also has high hopes for herself on the podium.
“I believe being on the podium is likely, the only question is what colour medal am I going to get, if that doesn’t sound too cocky,” she says.