Running really floats her boat: Ex-rower Cantlay joins Trojans’ cross-country crew
Sept. 11, 2012
CALGARY — Some may view cross-country running as the most solitary of sports.
Melissa Cantlay disagrees. And as a former rower — one of the most team-oriented pursuits around, literally and metaphorically — she’s certainly speaking from experience.
Cantlay, 24, of Kingston, Ont., hasn’t competed in varsity sports in nearly five years, dating back to her sophomore season on a rowing scholarship at Washington State University. But after a year of hospitality management studies at SAIT Polytechnic, she felt something was missing from her life — and sought out SAIT Trojans cross-country running coach Jamie Grant over the summer.
And as a result, she’ll hit the trail with the Trojans this weekend at Red Deer, as SAIT’s cross-country crew opens its 2012 season with the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference’s (ACAC) exhibition Grand Prix meet No. 2, hosted by Red Deer College, on Saturday, Sept. 15.
“I wanted to be part of a team environment again. The team camaraderie is what makes you shine, and brings out the best in you, I think,” says Cantlay, whose love of cross-country runs in the family. “In a team environment, you’re able to push yourself a little more — you’re able to find out a lot about yourself, about the level you’re capable of.”
For many years, pulling on that oar was second nature to Cantlay — whose four years of high-school rowing excellence at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute earned her a U.S. college scholarship with the Pullman, Wash.-based Cougars, a home in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and a new HQ on the Snake River.
KCVI’s legendary rowing reputation is clearly well-earned — just last month, Will Crothers and Robert Gibson, who graduated from KCVI a year ahead of Cantlay, earned an Olympic silver medal in the men’s eights event at the 2012 London Summer Games.
Cantlay competed at WSU for two seasons, coached teenagers at the Vancouver Rowing Club for a couple of years, and briefly returned to the sport with the Calgary Rowing Club, on the banks of the Glenmore Reservoir, before hopping out of the boat.
It’s been several years since Cantlay ran competitively, but her Trojans venture is certainly no lark. Her dad Alan, a lifelong competitive runner and former coach at Queen’s University, has owned the Runners’ Choice retail location in Kingston for a quarter-century, while her mom Deborah is a former Ironman triathlete.
“A lot of my teammates at Kingston and Washington State have moved on to high levels of rowing. Personally, I had no regrets about moving on,” says Cantlay. “But I feel like I still need the competition, and I really missed racing, which is why I took up cross-country again.
“I’m excited about getting back into it. I wanted to be part of a team again.”
The Trojan women’s squad captured ACAC team bronze last fall, but three of the four runners who helped achieve that result — Rebecca Britton, Alison McPherson, and Jill Blashyn — are no longer wearing SAIT red-and-white.
Lisa Giles, née Curle (2nd year, Calgary, environmental technology) will lead the Trojan women again this fall, and Grant hopes new arrivals such as Cantlay and Alicia Baharally of Stettler, Alta., will be able to fill the shoes of the departed.
“We are in the early stages of the season, and we won’t know until we get into harder training where Melissa will be able to get to,” says Grant, the Trojans’ fourth-year head coach. “But the first thing with Melissa is that she’s obviously an athlete. You can tell by her approach, her attitude, her build, her background.
“And I like the fact she came from a competitive rowing background. Coming from an NCAA level, it means she’s already had a lot of experience in the mental aspect of training,” adds Grant. “Rowing is one of the most physically exhausting, grueling sports out there, where you push your body beyond its limits. In running, that’s huge.”
The ACAC championships will be held Oct. 27 at Camrose, Alta., and hosted by the University of Alberta-Augustana.
The top seven individual athletes in each of the men’s eight-kilometre race and the women’s 5K event will earn ACAC all-conference nods — and punch an automatic ticket to the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association (CCAA) nationals on Nov. 10 at Champlain College in St-Lambert, Que.