Agony and ecstasy
By Brandon Gillet
In any great accomplishment, there’s always that “moment.” For Natasha Watcham-Roy (BHSc ʼ14), who won gold with Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team, it was when she scored a five-point try in a crucial semi-final against the U.S.
“My family just won’t stop talking about it,” says Watcham-Roy. “It is an amazing feeling.”
The team went on to beat the U.S. 55-7 and win gold, making for the stuff of legend.
“The stadium was jam-packed with Canadian fans. It was a great end to our season. We are so proud and so happy to win that gold medal for Canada and everybody,” says Watcham-Roy, who plays the forward position of “hooker.” She scored three tries during the competition. Not bad for a national team rookie, who was a member of the Gee-Gees women’s rugby team from 2009 to 2013.
Watcham-Roy now has her sights set on making the team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But first, she will compete in the Sevens World Series, starting in November, travelling to Dubai, Brazil, Atlanta, London and Amsterdam. Such is the life of a high-level athlete. No time to rest.
For true grit and dedication look no further than uOttawa student and swimmer Camille Bérubé, who won three medals at the Parapan Am Games: silver in the 100m women’s backstroke, bronze in the 200m women’s individual medley and bronze in the 100m women’s breaststroke.
As a result of a cancer diagnosed at birth, Bérubé has limited mobility in her legs. She has had to push herself to become the high-level athlete she is today. With the help of her coach, Dave Heinbuch of the Gee-Gees swim team, Bérubé has consistently improved her performance.
Bérubé, who is studying for an honours BA with specialization in communication and a minor in women’s and gender studies, has been coached by Heinbuch with the Gee-Gees for the past two years. Heinbuch was also her coach for four years with a Gatineau swim club.
“Dave has known me since my national team debut in 2009 and we both have learned a lot through the years,” says Bérubé. “It was a learning curve for him when he first started coaching me because he had never coached para before.”
Heinbuch is a veteran of more than 30 years in the sport, competing in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and winning silver at the 1975 Pan Am Games in Mexico City. For him, the best thing about Bérubé is that she doesn’t see herself as disabled or a para-athlete, but as a swimmer.
“I couldn’t ask more of her,” says Heinbuch. “She does everything her coaches ask. She’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”
After seven seasons with Heinbuch, Bérubé says both coach and swimmer know how her body reacts to training and how she recovers.
“It is very useful for training during the year but also when it comes to final preparation leading into important competitions,” says Bérubé.
The bulk of her training program focuses on “ultra-short race pace” training, which basically means there is no point in training at a longer distance and different pace than what you need for a competition.
“I’ve sort of changed my philosophy in that it’s important to train at race pace,” says Heinbuch. “She’s really responded well to it.”
Balancing school and her sport has been challenging, but Bérubé says understanding professors and uOttawa’s athletics department have played in big role in her success. She hopes that para sports can be better viewed in the future and promoted as being equal to able-bodied sports.
“The University of Ottawa has been outstanding,” said Bérubé. “I appreciate the support and I hope it's a step towards moving forward with the vision people have of para sports.”
Bérubé is all set to continue her program just a few weeks after the games. Next season with the Gee-Gees is crucial for her, as the Paralympic Games will take place September 7 to 18, 2016. She does, however, see the importance of excelling in her studies so her daily routine isn’t just about swimming.
“I will be training with the Gee-Gees team for the third consecutive year and I'm really looking forward to it,” said Bérubé. “Exciting times are coming up and I couldn’t be happier to be able to share them with my amazing teammates and coaches.”
“She’s really grown as an athlete and she’s helped me become a better coach,” said Heinbuch.
Road to Rio?
Sprint hurdler Karelle Edwards (BSc ʼ12 [Human Kinetics]) carried the Pan Am Games torch through the streets of Ottawa but did not compete. She was selected as a torchbearer before she knew whether she would be able to take part. Instead, she went to the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea, with Team Canada.
“Accepting to participate in South Korea meant that I was no longer eligible for the Pan Am Games. Although it was a difficult decision to make, because I still had a month to try and improve my time to qualify for the Pan Am Games, I felt that it was the right decision for me in the context of my road to Rio,” says Karelle. “It was an honour to be selected as a torchbearer. Lighting the cauldron was an amazing experience.”
Karelle also competed in France, Belgium and Sweden over the summer, but her ultimate goal is the 2016 Olympics in Rio. After recovering from a bulging disc in her back, which put her off track for three years, she made a comeback in 2012 and is now more determined than ever. She has managed to combine training with her work as a kinesiologist at physiotherapy clinics.
“Studying kinesiology and working in the field has definitely helped me with my track and field career. I have greater body awareness and I understand why my training program is structured the way it is. Being a kinesiologist has helped me overcome my back injury. It gave me the knowledge and tools I needed to take ownership of my recovery.”
Many other uOttawa alumni who have played and trained with Gee-Gees teams also contributed to Canada’s record-breaking 217 medals at the 2015 Pan American Games. Among them are social sciences alumna Kate Goodfellow, who won gold with the women’s quadruple sculls team and was a member of the Gee-Gees rowing team from 2007 to 2012, and Gabriel Beauchesne-Sévigny (BASc [Civil Engineering] ʼ13) won gold with teammate Ben Russell in the 1,000 metres men’s canoeing doubles.
Are you a uOttawa alumnus or alumna athlete or coach with Olympic ambitions? If we missed you, we apologize. By all means, drop us a line and keep your fellow alumni readers up to date at tabaret@uOttawa.ca. You can also follow us on Twitter: @uOttawaAlumni.
Camille Bérubé swims the 100m backstroke at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto. Photo: The Canadian Paralympic Committee.