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Fast in a straight line backwards: Islander took an unusual gold medal trajectory

Olympic gold medal rower Andrea Proske took a different kind of path to the podium
Olympic gold medalist Andrea Proske is sharing her story of determination and resiliency to help inspire others to greater things. (Photo by Kevin Light Photography)

Whether it is inspiring students as a motivational speaker, speaking to corporate leaders at Amazon about burnout, or raising funds for the Canadian Red Cross Society to benefit Ukrainians, Saanichton’s Andrea Proske is drawing on her unusual journey to Olympic gold to help others succeed in the world of business and beyond.

Proske, who won gold in women’s coxed eight rowing at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021 and moved to the Peninsula in January, said her favourite things about sport having nothing to do with the sport itself.

“On paper, I am very good going fast in a straight line backwards,” she said in an interview with Black Press Media. “In reality, what I am bringing is tenacity, I’m bringing an attention to detail, I’m bringing teamwork, I’m bringing the ability to push past my limits, to fail and to fail successfully forward and learn from my mistakes. I also bring an enormous amount of optimism and hope.”

These characteristics can be found in Proske’s path. By the age of 27, she was pursuing a career in Vancouver’s hospitality industry, working for the Pan Pacific Hotels Group. Feeling stuck, she followed the advice of a family friend to try out rowing. A camp identified her potential, but the opportunity to pursue a high-level athletic career came with a catch. She had to quit her job. Unsure of her next move, she called up her parents for advice, who told her to go for it.

“On paper, it was a pretty illogical decision for me, but there are things that are important in life, beyond how much money you have in your bank account,” she said.

RELATED: Lisa Roman and Andrea Proske named to women’s eight Olympic rowing team

Proske suffered setbacks along the way, including a collision with a car while training on a bicycle.

But she persevered.

“Never wonder ‘what if,’” she said, explaining her philosophy. “We miss 100 per cent of the shots we don’t take and I think that there is a big lesson to be learned from failure.”

Proske, now 35, said that mentality carried her eights crew through the competition in Tokyo.

“At the A-final of the Olympics, we looked at each other and we said, ‘if we cross that finish line, it is not about the gold medal, it is about looking each other in the eye and saying we did everything right, we tried our hardest, we did our very best.’”

Proske now shares this message of resilience as a keynote speaker for the Believe Initiative and during other engagements. She also serves on the board of directors for AthletesCan, an association representing Canada’s national team athletes, and has actively supported and promoted a fundraiser for Ukrainians, including those with connections to Rowing Canada.

She noted that Maksym Kepskyy, a coach with Rowing Canada, has numerous friends and family affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to a fundraiser page called Row for Ukraine.

As Proske explores her various opportunities, she has already come to fully appreciate her new home on the Saanich Peninsula.

“Despite having to move here for training, I fell in love with the area and I cannot image myself anywhere else,” she said. “There is nowhere else I would rather put down roots.”

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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