Court and crew Tokyo bound
St. Catharines coxie Laura Court and her crew have qualified for the 2o21 Tokyo Paralympics. Photo by Maren Derlien / MyRowingPhoto.com.
Laura Court and her crewmates punched their tickets to the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics last Saturday in Gavirate, Italy.
Competing in the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta, the 24-year-old St. Catharines resident and teammates Bayleigh Hooper (Peterborough Rowing Club), Andrew Todd (North Star Rowing Club), Victoria Nolan (Victoria City Rowing Club) and Kyle Fredrickson (University of Victoria Rowing Club) needed a top two finish to book a spot in the PR 3 mixed coxed four event (rowers with residual function in the legs which allows them to slide the seat and athletes with vision impairment) in Japan. The boat did just that and more, winning the event over second-place Brazil with a crew-best time of 7:08.87.
“I was just talking to one of my crewmates yesterday about it. When we crossed the line I was ‘Omigosh. this is so sweet. We just came first.’ I remember turning around to look at Bailey who was in the bow seat in the four and then it totally hit me that we had just gotten a spot to go to Tokyo. It was a pretty special moment.”
The former Brock University coxie admitted a few tears were shed.
“I definitely cried a little bit,” said Court, who was reached Monday while quarantining in a Vancouver hotel room.
The crew wasn’t overconfident heading to Italy.
“We were all just excited to race,” she said. “You always hope to qualify and we knew that we needed to go out there and do what we knew how to do best. And that’s what we did.”
Court was surprised the crew recorded a personal-best time.
“I don’t think we knew we could do this at that regatta,” she said. “On top of just qualifying, we are all just happy that we went out there and had the best race that we’ve ever had. That part was also very exciting.”
The Ridley College graduate credited a number of elements for the team’s great showing.
“It is just being consistent in the boat, we communicate really well as a crew, we talk about things we feel in the boat, and our coach John Wetzstein is so good at what he does. He has a great technical eye,” she said. “All those things combined helped us be able to put our best piece forward.”
It was the boat’s one and only attempt to qualify for Tokyo. The crew had yet to be formed when the first qualifying spots were available at the 2019 world championships and the final qualifying event in 2020 was postponed when the Olympics and Paralympics were moved to 2021.
Seeing the Olympics and Paralympics postponed was tough on everyone.
“At the end of the day, it was the right decision to make. It was to keep everyone safe going forward, I respected the decision but I was definitely emotional when I first found out,” the St. Catharines Rowing Club member said.
Once the 2020 Olympics cancelled, things ground to a halt at the national training centre in Victoria, B.C., in early spring before it reopened in June.
“We all came together at a couple of different points but this year has been a little bit different. Vickie has a family in Toronto and Andrew Todd has a family in Halifax so they were coming back and forth,” Court said. “We didn’t get to train together full time until February of this year.”
Prior to February, the boat had a couple of three- or four-week training sessions in the fall.
When Court’s crewmates weren’t in Victoria, she trained on her own and spent a lot of time in coach boats with Wetzstein, watching other boats train.
“I like to think of it as an opportunity to train my eyes, notice technique and see what I can pick up on outside of the boat.”
The Paralympics are scheduled for August in Tokyo and following the crew’s two-week quarantine, it will return to the water. There are plans to do a training camp in Tokyo to help prepare for the heat of Japan. Court expects that to happen a few weeks before the Games begin.
Court, who coxed under-23 women’s crews to back-to-back gold medals at the world championships and a PR 3 mixed coxed four to a fourth-place showing at the worlds, is obviously excited about her first appearance at the Paralympics.
“I am most looking forward to the racing experience and the calibre of all the crews that are going to be there. The racing this past weekend was really great but you know that the best of the best are going to show up there. It is really exciting to know that we are going to be among them and we are going to be able throw down our best piece against them like we did this past weekend.”
The boat believes it can make its way to the top of the podium.
“That’s the goal but like everyone else, we have a lot of work to do to get there. But I think we are excited and ready to put in that work so we can be in that position.”
She is confident that it will be safe to compete in Japan even if the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been brought to its knees.
“We don’t know all the logistics behind it yet but I am confident we will able to go there, follow all the rules, and if we wear the masks and do everything that we need to do, we will all be safe.”
After the Paralympics, Court will reassess her national rowing career. She expects she will be carrying on.
“I would like to continue for another quadrennial and it is already the next quadrennial.”
Away from the water in Victoria, Court is applying to schools and is going to try and do some online studies after Tokyo.
In the PR2 mixed double final at the final qualifier in Italy, Canada’s Jessye Brockway and Jeremy Hall finished third.
“I’m tremendously proud of both crews,” Wetzstein said on the Rowing Canada website. “We’ve been through a lot, as has everyone. We achieved our best performances to date and regardless of what the outcomes mean for each crew, we are looking forward.”
Dear reader. If you liked this story or one of the 3,300 other stories found on our website, please consider hitting the Support Us button on the right-hand side of our home page and making a PayPal contribution to our website. Your support would be much appreciated. If you are a business owner, please consider advertising on our site. Our rates are reasonable and we provide plenty of exposure for your business. Contact email@example.com for more information.