Former Unity resident, Alyssa Weninger, has earned success in the sport of rowing in Canada.
Weninger, a 2004 graduate of Unity Composite High School, is a member of Canada’s Canadian Development rowing team and has her eye on competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Skimming across the water as a member of a rowing team may seem like an unusual occupation for a former prairie girl, but Weninger came to her passion for the sport through an immersion in a wide array of athletics growing up.
“My journey in sport began in Unity and it’s always in my heart where I came from,” she says.
Weninger, who moved to Unity in 1993 with her parents and a brother and sister, remembers the wide array of athletic pursuits offered through school and community. She participated in volleyball, track and field, cross-country, softball and hockey. As a teenager she discovered a passion for cycling.
“I competed in the Sask. Summer Games in 2004 in mountain biking. The following year I qualified to represent Sask. at the 2005 Canada Summer Games hosted in Regina.”
After high school Weninger moved to Saskatoon to begin post-secondary school. She ran with the University of Saskatchewan Cross-Country and Track teams while continuing to pursue cycling on the side.
“It was through U of S track and cross-country community that I met my future cycling coach, Irene Kokotailo,” says Weninger. “Working with her was a pivotal moment in my sporting career.”
She trained with Kokotailo and Bruce Crave for three years before deciding to leave her university degree unfinished and relocate to Victoria, B.C. to pursue sport full time.
“Victoria was a whole new world for me filled with high performance sport. I clearly remember watching the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and seeing the men's 8+ win gold,” Weninger recalls.
It was in the British Columbia capital that her interest in rowing was born.
“Although I was in Victoria for cycling I couldn't shake this feeling that I wanted to learn how to row. And that's how it happened. I went down to a rowing club and wanted to learn how to row 'just for fun.’”
She remembers being in her first international cycling competition in California wearing the team Canada kit, and her mind kept wandering back to rowing.
“When I returned home from California I began to focus on rowing full time. For nearly four years I have worked as a waitress/bartender in the evenings and spent my days down at the rowing club. I have spent countless hours working on basic technical rowing skills most rowers learn when they are still in high school. Fortunately for myself, rowing is a late entry sport and it is common for many athletes to enter the sport in his or her 20s.”
Weninger has recently returned from Europe where she was on tour with the Canadian Development team already working towards the next 2016 Olympics. The team competed in the Holland-Beker Regatta in Amsterdam, Holland in the beginning of June and Royal British Henley in England the beginning of July. The team earned a gold and silver in Amsterdam.
Upon completing her university degree this Christmas, Weninger will be relocating to Ontario to train at the National Women's Training center in London.
As Weninger looks back upon her journey to a spot on an Olympic developmental team, she recalls the diversity of athletic pursuits that drew her interest.
“It is interesting to reflect back on the many sports I did,” she says.
“Although I was not outstanding in one single sport, I was competent in all of them. I feel this versatility has a lot to do with my success right now.
“Versatility in sport prevented me from 'burning out' of sport completely and also played a role in managing injuries from overuse when going through rapid growing phases of adolescence.”
She says those factors have allowed her to stay in sport for a long period of time.
“This model of development in sport is now referred by sports specialists as a 'long term athlete development' and gives the biggest success for athletes to reach international podiums.”
It is that long term aspect that draws the respect of her former community.
“It is easy to look at success in sport, music or business and see it as an overnight success. But as you can see this for me has been over 15 years in the making.”
But Weninger isn’t smug about her success. She quotes Malcolm Gladwell in saying, "Successful people may appear self-made, but in fact they are beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the work in ways others cannot."
This future Olympian with Unity roots urges everyone to cheer on the athletes in the 2012 games.
“Please enjoy watching the 2012 Olympic Games in London and cheer hard for our Canadian athlete!”