How many people would give up a good job, move away from home and chase a dream in a sport they knew little about?
That is what Andrea Proske did, and her life-altering decision seems to be paying off.
It was three years ago when Proske first considered rowing.
Having recently completed Tough Mudder — an endurance race in which participants face obstacles on a course — Proske was looking for her next challenge.
Sitting around after Thanksgiving dinner, the conversation turned to what some of her options might be.
“A friend and a bottle of wine,” Proske said with a laugh about what convinced her to give a sport she knew nothing about a chance.
Her friend told Proske about the Row to Podium program.
Row to Podium — a Canadian identification and development program for rowing with a goal of moulding new athletes into future Olympic and Paralympic champions — is designed for athletes with no experience in rowing, although the candidates tend to at least have athletic backgrounds.
Proske had the build for rowing — she is six-foot-one — but had no sporting background. And at age 27, she was also older than the typical candidates.
But Proske went for the testing and did well.
“I certainly didn’t come to this sport by conventional means,” she said.
“It has been trying to prove myself against some odds, with age and lack of experience, but I have been really blessed to have a fantastic training environment with the women I train with and, most importantly, a really great coach.”
Late last month, the 30-year-old won the RCA (Rowing Canada Aviron) Canadian national championship in the women’s single sculls 2-km race.
She was also part of Team BC, which won gold in the Canada Cup women’s quad race.
The championships were held at Burnaby Lake — the same waters Proske began her training on.
“Becoming a national champion on the same water that I first learned to row on was an amazing feeling,” she said.
It capped off what has been a remarkable few months.
Earlier this summer, Proske won the women’s Henley in England and she also placed top 10 in Amsterdam.
“She is a national champion, that is a huge achievement,” said Roger Meager, one of her coaches — along with Barney Williams — at the Victoria City Rowing Club.
“She lined up against the very best in the world and she took them all on.
“She wasn’t frightened.
“She didn’t beat them, but these people have 15 years more rowing than she does.
“(It was) a really remarkable accomplishment.”
The coach said it is rare for someone with no athletic history to succeed, but Proske is determined.
“She is incredibly self disciplined.
“She learned some of the basic skills but the next part, where you have to refine some of those skills, takes an incredible amount of concentration.
And she is world class with that focus,” he said.
The successes come after a difficult stretch for Proske.
In June 2015, she was hit by a car while riding her bike. Proske is still dealing with concussion issues. And the time she lost cost her a chance to try out for the Canadian national team ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
But the fact she has made it this far would not have come without the support of her parents, Henry and Joanie.
While training over the winter months prior to the start of the Row to Podium program, Proske was second-guessing her decision.
Her father, Henry, said that if she really wanted to chase this dream then she needed to quit her job and focus on rowing full-time.
At the time, Proske was working as a manager for the call centre and room service departments at the Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver.
While she questioned why someone would walk away from a good job to chase a dream, his message was that you only live once, and you don’t want to go through life thinking ‘what if.’
After her first year training in Burnaby — the hotel created a position for her to accommodate her training schedule — Proske knew she had found her sport.
“I love pushing myself; I love finding my limits and seeing if I can go beyond it,” Proske said.
She moved to Victoria, where she has lived and trained the past two years.
Proske trains year-round, six days a week, two to three times per day.
A typical week involves 20 to 25 hours of training.
The first workout of the day is on the water, while the second is on an indoor rowing machine, known as an ergometer, and the third is either some cardio or weight training.
The 2004 Walnut Grove Secondary graduate makes it back to Langley about once a month, where her mom loads her up with vegetables from the garden to take back to Victoria.
Proske now shifts her focus for the end of November when testing is concluded for potential national team members.
Anne Franklin photo
Langley’s Andrea Proske (below).
Langley pair win silver
While Proske won gold in her event, two other Langley woman also found the podium at Burnaby Lake.
The team of Lisa Roman — who represented Canada this past summer at the Rio Olympics — and Kristin Bauder finished second in the women’s pair competition. Both are 27-year-olds from Langley who are now based out of Ontario for rowing.