Olympian Kit relishes opportunity
Kristen Kit will cox Canada’s women’s eight at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo by Merijn Soeters.
Despite the internal selection process having been completed for about two weeks, Kristen Kit was taking nothing for granted when Canada’s Olympic rowing team was announced June 15.
“It is never for sure until you are announced for the team and it was a really special moment for myself and my teammates,” the 32-year-old St. Catharines native said.
The announcement was made while the team was at a training camp at Strathcona Park Lodge in Campbell River, B.C., where there was no cell service and very limited wifi.
“It was pretty neat because we were together and we were able to celebrate together but we weren’t really caught up in the media (component) of it,” Kit said. “The announcement is special but we are pretty forward focused.
“I feel that we have an amazing opportunity ahead of us and going to win a medal for Canada is what we are all working towards. That is what the last five years have been all about.”
Joining Kit in Canada’s women’s eight are Susanne Grainger, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Andrea Proske, Lisa Roman, Christine Roper and Avalon Wasteneys. Gruchalla-Wesierski is reported to be injured and a replacement has yet to be announced.
“What Canada is going to see in 30 days is going to be completely different from what Canada has seen in the last five years in the women’s eight,” Kit said. “We’re a totally different personality and totally different group. We have some names that are the same but we have some really exciting people in the boat. It is going to be pretty cool.”
The St. Catharines Rowing Club member and former University of British Columbia scholarship rower has been coxing the women’s eight since 2017, when she guided the crew to a silver medal at the world championships.
“We had a funny eight for 2017 and we literally only had eight women for the eight. We didn’t have the best erg scores and it was a story of a group of women working as one and we won a silver medal in Sarasota at the 2017 world championships in what the announcers were saying was the closest women’s eight race in history. That just got me hooked for the rest of the quadrennial.”
The eight also won silver at the worlds in 2018 and placed fourth at the 2019 worlds to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Kit learned plenty from an unsuccessful attempt to become an Olympian in 2016.
“I went through selection with Lesley (former national team coxie and eight-time Olympian Thompson-Willie) and I didn’t get selected to the boat and I was totally devastated.”
She was then offered a spot in the para team camp and she moved out to the Paralympic team training centre in Victoria.B.C., in January 2015.
“I was still pretty angry and pretty upset. I had forgotten to believe in myself and in 2015 we had really big things and not great things happen to us with the coach and the athletes but we came out and won a bronze medal (at the world championships) in the LTA (leg, trunk and arms) coxed four in 2015. It really helped me solidify what I believed to be correct about rowing and I put everything I had in the 2015 and 2016 years.”
In 2016, the boat notched the first rowing medal for Canada at the Paralympics (a bronze).
“It was that belief and trust in myself that rebuilt my confidence that I carry on with today,” Kit said. “I also think my experience with the selection in 2014 taught me to ask hard questions and not ignore the lay of the land around me. By that, I mean if something is up with a coach or an athlete, I ask the questions now versus just surface level conversations.”
She is ever-evolving as a coxie.
“As an athlete, I have to be pretty self-reflective because that is how you get better. Every boat has a different personality and the way that I cox every boat is a little bit different.”
She is never static in her approach.
“You change two people in the eight and suddenly you have got to reinvent yourself a little bit with the style.”
Kit knows what she has to do to remain focused.
“The biggest thing for me as I get older is to stay out of my own way and keeping my ego in check. I am honest about that and I think that’s what helps me get better. It is something that I have to continually be aware of and if I stay humble, then I am going to continue to get better and I will develop with each boat that I am in.”
Two years ago, she was accepted into the RBC Olympians program, which provides top athletes a chance to gain valuable career experience within a flexible work schedule that allows them time to train and compete on the world stage. She received some training in public speaking and was able to meet a variety of athletes across different sports.
“That gave me a lot of self-confidence to be satisfied and happy as an athlete. Before 2019, when I got into this program, I was thinking I would cox right now and then go back to school and get a job. I am still going to do those things but it has given me a lot of self-worth and belief.
“When I actually do share my story, I realize that what I am doing is good right now.”
She knows she can be even better.
“I don’t feel that I am at my best yet. Every day that I am in the boat with those girls I get better. And I also feel racing is what I live for. I love 2k International racing. It is just such a thrill and it’s something that I know that I am good at,” Kit said. “The racing drives me. I am not from a rowing or a sports family and I am not supposed to be doing this. I just got lucky in a lot of situations.”
Kit wants to share that luck with others.
“I feel that the more that I can help younger people come up behind me, the better. I am trying to contribute to a community and a culture where coxies come up and they can feel that there is a pathway and that they are supported,” she said. “There wasn’t a pathway for me and if I can contribute to helping the U-23s come up, which is what I have been doing, it makes me feel like I am contributing to something.”
She is focused on the upcoming Olympics and isn’t thinking about what comes next.
“Every team that I have been lucky enough to be on has a really unique set of personalities and it is more about the team for me. If the team is right, I will continue but it’s not about me as an individual.”
She has been delighted with the work of coach Michelle Darvill.
“She coached a lot of us in 2009 and 2010 at the under-23 level and she has been with us for over 10 years now. Similar to my para coach in 2016, she has really helped me find my passion and love for the sport again.”
The Olympic adventure for Kit and her teammates will begin July 1 when they travel to Japan for a training camp in Sagamihara.
“We are super lucky. About three years ago, Rowing Canada’s high performance director and another guy went to Japan and signed a memorandum of understanding with a prefecture outside of Tokyo. They went back and resolidified it later and they have put quite a bit of work into this.”
Kit is confident that work will pay dividends.
“It is such a competitive advantage because the main countries we are racing, with their pre-Olympic training camps they either didn’t book them or they all pulled out. We are the only country able to get into Japan more than a week before racing. That is really important because Japan is hot and there is a time change.”
With all the athletes coming to the Games with two vaccines, Kit isn’t too worried about COVID.
“Our chief of medical, Dr. Mike Wilkinson, who is also the Rowing Canada team doctor, is so on top of it. He is very strict with the rules and I totally trust him with regards to heading into Japan because he is so risk adverse,” she said. “I am not too worried because our team is really good at staying safe and following protocols but I am aware of the risks.”
Kit is also aware of the sentiment of the Japanese people who want the Games cancelled.
“Of course I don’t want to be an imposition on any country. I want to race but it is about people staying safe. My hope is that all athletes from across all countries respect the privilege that we’re being offered because it is a huge privilege to still be able to go and race.”