The Canuck Edition: Kerry Shaffer
The Commonweath factor at CFC got a boost just recently when superstar rower-turned triathlete joined our crew. Our lovely Canadian, Kerry, came out of the Olympic Training Center and is finding new joy swimming, biking and running.
* Kerry, you have a super impressive background. Please tell us about how you got into rowing and then everything between then and now!
If you compare me to the elite athlete, I probably have a similar story line so, impressive? Maybe not, but nevertheless, here is my rags to riches story ????
Growing up I had a lot of freedom in the summers. So I guess you can say my passion for running, riding and swimming started there; running free in my hometown and beyond on my sweet mountain bike or on foot always with water as my destination and typically the route involved some precarious free hand repel or just a tricky navigation around the law. But at some point that was not enough. Late in high school after failing to be good enough at just about anything except competitive cheerleading and music, I went on a hunt for something bigger, somewhere I could shed the unfortunate physique young girls get aka “big boned”. That is when I found rowing. It did not take long for me to hit the water, in an old antique wooden shell with a motley crew where we promptly left the dock to hit shore. Unfortunately that crew did not last long, but as fate would have it, a Jr National coach, who was also a local high school coach spotted me and in his words “You’re a tall, big girl. You could be good at this. Come row for me”. And so it began.
I did all the stuff you should do as a good rower, I had 2 years to get up to speed and my aim was a scholarship. Fortunately I had naivety on my side and I quickly became an athlete with enough accolades to gain the attention of some schools in the USA. I ended up at the University of Virginia, where I enjoyed the ups and downs of climbing the ladder to what was an Olympic goal with a Freshman NCAA win and two years (2005/06) on the Under 23 Canadian National rowing team. It was all looking great until I was hit with what doctors called a career ending injury. After graduating college I went into rehab mode to salvage what I could of my right leg and that is where my first taste of triathlon came in! I successfully started to use my legs again through run, bike, and swim and I began a 3 year relationship with the sport while coaching my first love, rowing.
I got married, moved to the USA with my husband and after a few years I was contacted out of the blue by the Canadian National team coaches pondering my current status. So that started the year long process of adding rowing back into my training, buying a single to row and ultimately the many drives to and from our home in Florida to Canada where I raced Canadian Nationals in 2010 as piece of mind, that I had done all I could, I could hang up my oars for good.
Funny how God’s got other plans sometimes. I won. A surprise for sure, and that settled my invitation to train with the team starting in 2011 where I stayed until the fall of 2016. At the end of the day I come away from my sport having trained with the elite, racing in many World Cups and Championships as both a sweeper and sculler and with podium finishes, with a gold at both Henley Royal and Hollandbeker in 2012, bronze at a 2013 World Cup, 2 gold medals from the Pan American Games in 2015, and 3 more medals at Canadian Nationals, not to mention the gold at US Nationals I was not allowed to claim as a Canadian.
Things did not go my way about 80% of the time, with injuries, family deaths etc I could not control it all, but I did everything that WAS in my control so that I could walk away after the 2016 Non Olympic Worlds with no regrets.
* You have obviously learned a thing or two about dedication and hard work over the years, how is that transferring into your new day-to-day?
I don’t think I have figured out what”day-today” means yet in the real world, but I am trying. We as athletes are pretty high strung. We get the Type A label, and for good reason. Everything is organized, our time, food, rest, workouts, social time (if you have time or are not too tired), bedtime, and let’s be honest even our bathroom time. There is a schedule for everything and at a training center there is even more structure and no time for jobs social events or even family at times, in essence you live a selfish life. The real world although, it needs that structure, also needs spontaneity, unexpected adventures and time with family and friends, not to mention a sense of humour and a bit of “go with the flow” attitude from time to time.
The other thing I have being seeing translate, is that despite what comes my way, I can find a way to attack it or overcome. New activities, job opportunities even if not trained in the area, I can figure out. Perhaps it is stubbornness more than hard work but I sure am determined! Hit me with your best, I will do everything I can to rise to the occasion, even if I still fall short I certainly won’t give up!
* What’s it like going from the top of your professional sport into more of a newbie at tri, with a bunch of questions and unknowns?
Hahaha, well, it is certainly a trip. And I have not even done anything yet. It is a humbling experience. The upside is, once again I have naivety on my side. I love that first race when you are a pile of nerves because you have no idea how it is going to go down. You have no idea who the pros or elite are, no idea that you have been talking with the fastest athlete at the race before hitting the water. You race the clock you race for your best and sometimes that takes you bigger places than you could have ever planned. But besides that, here are a few lessons I have learned so far.
1. I have a good aerobic base and know how to train but carrying my over sized rowing body where gravity plays a bigger role is not so easy. Let’s say I am getting all the injuries and niggles out of the way early.
2. FTP tests. I missed the part about taking a percent of the avg…. ya, lots of frustration and maybe a tear shed not to mention calls from coach telling me to calm down while I am thinking my life as an athlete is over because I cannot get through a workout. Upside, I can do it now! Forcing change haha.
3. Can’t eat like I used to. Rowing allowed me to eat A LOT. We burn so many calories that it was actually a job to eat enough. Not so much for this Tri crowd, eating out is a lot cheaper now, and I am trying to pay more attention to nutrition info. I wish I could go back to the runner body I had with a snap of the fingers.
* What triathlon plans do you have for the year? And do any of them take place in California? 🙂
Generally Olympic distance is my chosen poison, although one is a half iron. I signed up for Escape the Cape in NJ (get to start off a ferry which sounded cool), I am hoping Chicago Tri since it is close to home, and I signed up for the REV3 Barrelman (half iron) which starts in my hometown in Canada ending at the good side of the Niagara Falls, you should come, it is awesome and a sweet, fast course. I will fill the blanks with some local stuff… probably should make more plans eh?! Oh, I do get to go watch my husband race Ironman Lanzarote in May. That will be fun. And the closest I will ever get to racing an Ironman.
As for Cali, I WANT to get out there but plans seem to always change. I was hoping for the Desert Tri, but I need to get on my feet again first. Who knows. I will have to consult the coach on that one 🙂 Any other suggestions?
* Is it true Canadians finish every sentence with, ‘eh’?
Did the previous questions answer that? Yes, we tend to use it a lot in casual conversation. I mean, who wouldn’t like a statement and a question all in one eh?!
* What brought you to America? And how often do you get home?
First School, then the American husband lol He is a helicopter pilot in the US Coast Guard, so we have little choice over our living situation. We have lived in Boston, Florida, Oregon and now the great state of Michigan. When I was living back in Canada with the team I would see my husband anywhere from a few times a year when on the west coast to once a month when he moved to MI. Since moving back from Canada to the USA, I get to my hometown of Welland, ON every couple of months. It is a great place to ride, run, and the athlete and rec scene is pretty big out there. Not to mention I have my dad, sister and her family whom I love to hang out with 🙂
* Please tell me poutine is your favourite local snack??
I do enjoy poutine, but it has to be from a fry truck or from a designated Poutin”ery” and uses real cheese curds. Now I am craving one. Other than that I really like popcorn, but made in a air popper with a little bit of butter, sometimes salt and pepper. Oh and don’t forget Maple syrup. Just kidding, I like Maple syrup but not on EVERYTHING.
* Anything else you’d like to add?
I have two furry fans Cutter and Maple (labradoodles) who keep me company during long trainer rides, guard against the evil Postman and give the best post workout snuggles! Oh yes, how did i forget the dogs . . .