An athlete who used to see how fast she could paddle around Nanaimo’s Shack Islands has now rowed all the way to an Olympic podium.
Caileigh Filmer of Victoria, along with teammate Hillary Janssens of Surrey, won bronze in women’s pairs rowing at the Summer Games in Tokyo on Thursday, July 29.
Two of Filmer’s grandparents, Ruth and Allan Matson, watched the race on TV from their Cassidy home on Wednesday night in the Pacific time zone.
Watching a granddaughter race in the Olympics was nerve-racking enough, but more so because of the rough waters at the Sea Forest Waterway rowing venue this week. Ruth Matson had watched a rower take a spill in an earlier race.
“The winds were picking up to when Caileigh and Hillary were going to race, I was saying, cancel it, because those boats aren’t good in rough water,” Matson said.
She said a rowing coach had told her that the Canadians, knowing they would be contending with a strong New Zealand pair, might try a strategy of starting fast and trying to hold on, and Filmer and Janssens did indeed lead the final early before the Kiwis passed them midway through and a Russian Olympic Committee pair caught up later.
The gold, silver and bronze medallists all ended up close, finishing the nearly seven-minute race within two seconds of each other.
It was a proud moment for the grandparents to watch as Filmer received her medal.
“I was crying with her. I was really touched with how she said she missed her family,” Matson said.
Filmer previously competed in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, finishing fifth as part of the women’s eight crew, and family members had been able to go to those games to watch her compete.
“You have no idea if they’ll ever go in the Olympics again and as it turned out, the next Olympics, nobody could go anyhow,” Matson said.
She said her granddaughter has shown determination in her athletic journey, as Filmer broke her clavicle while doing dryland training on her bike in Victoria last fall, which limited how she was able to train.
“We thought that was it, but she had the mental tenacity to keep pushing,” Matson said.
Filmer’s summertime paddling at Shack Island as a child isn’t her only connection to Nanaimo, as her other set of grandparents, Alan and Margaret Filmer, were business owners downtown and Alan practised law in Nanaimo before going on to become a judge. Caileigh’s great-grandfather, Noel Filmer of Nanaimo, was a golfing champion.
“The roots of Caileigh’s parents and grandparents are pretty well Nanaimo,” Matson said. “A little bit of coal dust there.”