Hometown Heroes is a new series profiling members of Canada’s National Rowing Team. From now until the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the athletes training at Canada’s two National Rowing Training Centers will be battling for individual seats within the crews which have qualified for Brazil.
(I recently caught up with Kai while he was at a training camp on Vancouver Island, shortly before he and the team headed to Europe for a pre-worlds training camp.)
THE STRONG SILENT TYPE
For a young teenage boy who utterly hated his first rowing experience, Kai Langerfeld sure has made amends.
When his Dad, a rower at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, invited him one afternoon to go rowing in a double, Kai grudgingly obliged. A young brooding 13 year old at the time, the experience scarred Kai and he vowed he would never step into a rowing shell again.
Teenagers can be moody at the best of times, and after almost flipping the boat on numerous occasions, Kai stubbornly decided that his dream of winning a Stanley Cup was a much better option. And despite spending his teenage years in mild yet rainy Parksville on Vancouver Island, this was not enough to dampen little Kai’s Stanley Cup enthusiasm.
Skip ahead to Kai as a young adult. While dividing his time between working at Costco and going to a local community college in Victoria, Kai was feeling unsettled and dissatisfied with the direction in which his life was progressing. Endless hours of skewering chickens and monitoring their transformation into glistening, golden, rotisseries of perfection provided an abundance of time to question his future, not to mention loathe his present circumstance. Figuring out a way to distance himself from poultry and get reacquainted with athletics became an obsession. Kai missed sport and was intent on moving past the mourning phase of his hockey dream, which fizzled and died a couple of years previous.
Having never given much thought to his Dad’s Olympic rowing career as a kid, he began to take interest in it now. What seemed trivial and boring a decade ago, all of a sudden seemed invigorating and exciting. “Why not try rowing?” Kai thought to himself, while gently urging the hot chickens to fall off the spit, “and go to the Olympics?” Far from being intimidated by his father’s accomplishments, Kai drew inspiration from them. “He did it, why can’t I?” he thought to himself.
A couple of days later, by pure happenstance, a local university rowing coach approached him while he was lifting weights in a local gym. The coach asked Kai if he had ever thought of rowing, and to give him a shout if he wanted to give it a try. He handed his card to Kai as he left the gym.
An omen perhaps written by the rowing Gods, and one that Kai embraced wholeheartedly.
Kai’s rise since that pivotal day has been nothing short of meteoric. From the novice team at the University of Victoria to the national senior team, this quiet and introverted athlete knows how to get the job done.
And as preparations for this summers World Rowing Championships are in their final stages, Kai finds himself in stroke seat of the men’s four. His three crewmates, who follow the rhythm that he sets, are all silver medalists from the London 2012 Olympics.
Daunting? “Sometimes. They have a bond from those Olympics that I will never be a part off. But it is about looking forward, not backwards,” he says with quiet confidence, “We are all out here working together every day, working hard together right now, today. It is what we do in the moment which will determine the future, not what we have done in the past. And besides, I am always receptive to feedback and I want to improve, I want to keep getting better. What more can you ask for?”
Medals, for one. The four had a rough start to the quadrennial last year at the World Championships, although Kai was not a member of that particular crew. This year the foursome finished with a bronze medal at the final stop on the World Cup tour in Switzerland last month. They are hoping to better that performance at the end of August in Amsterdam at the World Championships.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” insists Kai. “To be honest, I see myself rowing in Rio and Tokyo (2020). I think a gold medal in Tokyo is more realistic.”
For now, the goal is to get through the next workout on Buttle Lake, in Strathcona Provincial Park, on Vancouver Island. The isolated location has provided the men’s team with a large, secluded body of water to get some important work done away from urban distractions.
The World Championships in Amsterdam will be the half way mark in the four-year cycle between the London and the Rio Games, a marker in the quadrennial that does not go unnoticed by athletes and coaches alike. But in typical Kai fashion, he absorbs it all in understated stride.
“We moved around a lot when I was a kid and it was hard to always be the new guy at school. Sometimes I did not have any friends, so I was alone with my thoughts a lot,” he says, “I think it made me a stronger person, it made me work harder and become a more resilient human being. I was never the loud guy anyways, never liked drawing attention to myself. I just put my head down and worked” Kai emphasizes, something that now serves him well in the often times monotonous daily grind of being a rower.
And a quality that will benefit Kai as he continues to log the tens of thousands of kilometers required in order to capture a piece of Olympic glory in Rio, and beyond.
And what does Dad think of all of this? “He doesn’t say too much but I know he is proud,” Kai responds, insinuating another strong and silent personality in the Langerfeld family. I guess the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.
Follow Kai and his teammates at www.worldrowing.com as they compete in Amsterdam at the World Rowing Championships from August 24 until the 31st.
Athlete bios are available at www.rowingcanada.org.
Stay up to date with the Canadian National Rowing squad on Twitter (@rowingcanada) and Facebook.
written by douglas vandor