Photo © Merijn Soeters – www.merijnsoeters.com
“You hear about, and see, the best athletes in videos, and all of the sudden, you’re at the same venue as them. You’re seeing them. You’re competing alongside them. You’re sharing the bus with legendary reigning champions. It’s breathtaking; crazy; unreal.”
Two weeks after the 2018 World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria, Jeremy Hall sounds like he can still hardly believe what he accomplished there. On Friday, September 14, Hall beat rowers from Great Britain, Italy, Brazil, and Poland to capture a silver medal for Canada in the PR2 M1x Men’s Single Sculls race. Hall finished less than seven seconds behind the defending champion from the Netherlands and a full 10 seconds ahead of the third-place Italian rower.
“I always set the bar as high as possible for myself. I thought that if I row well, I might be able to squeeze into a bronze position if I don’t let pressure and nerves get to me,” Hall said. “But silver, I mean, it’s unbelievable.”
Jeremy’s story is incredible and inspiring, and he took the time to tell us his story from growing up in the Lakeland to rowing on the world stage.
Lakeland Roots and ParaSport
Hall grew up in St. Paul, graduating from St. Paul Regional High School in 2009. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alberta. Hall is currently working on his Master’s in biomedical engineering. Hall also has fused knees due to a Hemophilia A, a bleeding disorder caused by an absent or inoperative blood clotting protein.
“When I lived in St. Paul, I always loved sports and played lots of sports with my friends. But as time went on, I wasn’t able to do the same things due to the condition in my knees worsening.”
Hall entered the world of parasport while working on his Master’s, beginning with sledge hockey. He played for the Edmonton Impact as well as Team Alberta at the 2017 National Championships. For him, the combination of working on academics and the thrill of sledge hockey was cathartic. It pushed him to excel in both areas.
“After I came back from Nationals in 2017, I thought it might be nice to just take time to focus on my degree,” Hall said. “But I started to go stir crazy and went looking for a summer sport because I needed that release.”
The Road to Rowing
While searching for another sport to help blow off steam in 2017, Hall says that was approached more than once about the possibility of rowing.
“Several people had said to me that with my body type, my upper body strength, and my disability, that I would be a really good fit for para-rowing. Considering that in a rowing shell, not being able to use your legs isn’t a huge detriment, I inquired at the Edmonton Rowing Club about rowing with them.”
Hall eventually linked up with Martin George, the coach of men’s para-rowing in British Columbia. George was impressed with Hall’s level of fitness and due to his knowledge of parasport, knew that Hall’s disability immediately classified him as a PR2 rower. In para-rowing, there are three classifiable groups. PR3 rowers have use of at least one leg, trunk and arms. This also includes rowers with visual and intellectual impairments. PR2, Hall’s classification, includes athletes with full use of their trunk and arms, but not their legs. Finally, PR1 rowers have limited trunk control and are restricted to the movement of their shoulders and arms.
“Things just kind of snowballed after I met Martin,” Hall said. “There was a bit of apprehension on the part of the Edmonton Rowing Club to have me there. Often, when people think of someone with a disability, they automatically assume that they will need constant supervision and someone at their side at all times because he’s going to drown. Obviously, that’s not the case.”
Eventually, Hall made his way to Vernon, BC, to train with George. By the end of the first week there, George told Hall that he wanted him as part of the National Team.
“I was obviously a bit shocked. I had been on the water for like, two days total, and here’s Martin saying that he wants me to row for Canada. But I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t care if I make a fool of myself. And Martin obviously thought that I was up for it, so I decided to just give it a shot.”
The National Team and Italy
“I was still taking courses and working on my Master’s, but I joined the National Team in January 2018. The National Training Centre is in Victoria, so I was living in Edmonton and doing my classes there, and then travelling to Victoria to train. After a few months of that, I decided it was probably best just to move to the Island, which I did in mid-April.”
In May, Hall competed at the Para-Rowing International Regatta in Italy, an event that would help him qualify for Worlds. He came in third place at the regatta, which he describes as a huge confidence boost.
“I got to Italy and rowed for the first time on the world stage. I got bronze, and I just thought, ‘Oh shit. Here I am going up against some of the best; there’s the reigning Paralympic champion there, and I’m rowing against him.’ And I got third. Suddenly I realized that I can do this.”
The 2018 World Championships
“There was a really special moment with all the Canadian team once we were in Bulgaria. We had what’s called a Maple Leaf Ceremony. At the Maple Leaf Ceremony, we apply the decals of the maple leaf onto our oars. That’s only done for Worlds, Paralympics and Olympics. It’s pretty solemn and symbolic. Only a few athletes, the best of the best, have done this. It really helps remind you that you aren’t rowing for you, you’re rowing for Canada. And Canada demands the best, so that’s what you need to be.”
Going into the final race, Hall says that it was critical that he row technically well, trust himself and his skills, and just enjoy the moment.
“I started the race pretty hot and got ahead pretty early. I knew that I had virtually no chance of catching up to the Dutchman (Corné de Koning), so I just zeroed in on rowing to perfection and doing my absolute best.”
By the 150-metre mark of the two-kilometre race, Hall was already in second place. He would not forfeit his position for the duration of the row. He dug his oars in hard, securing his second-place finish. Having rowed for just over a year, Hall made an emphatic statement about his skill, determination, and pure athleticism.
“I don’t think anybody, myself included, expected that I would push that hard and maintain that pace throughout. I honestly couldn’t be more excited and more thrilled. Standing there on the podium, it was incredible.”
The obvious next step and the ultimate goal for Hall are to compete in the Paralympics. The only thing standing in his way is the fact that his event, PR2 Men’s Single Skulls, isn’t actually a Paralympic event.
“If I want to compete at the Paralympics, it would have to be in mixed double skulls. That event has two rowers, a male and a female. Right now, on our National Team, we don’t have a female rower in the same classification as me. As you can probably imagine, it’s a bit of a strange criteria list. But we will stay hopeful and will search until we find the right partner.”
In the meantime, Hall will continue to train and hone his skills, improving himself as he has done constantly throughout his rowing journey.