When she arrived at the University of the Fraser Valley in 2007, Lisa Roman had never laid hands on an oar or set foot in a racing boat.
Today, she’s in Europe with the Rowing Canada senior women’s national team, competing in major international regattas with an eye on qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
What a ride it’s been.
“Without the rowing program at UFV, I don’t think I would have ever started rowing,” Roman acknowledged in a recent email interview. “I was a figure skater for several years before trying rowing. I was at the peak of my skating career and wasn’t making progress in the right direction, but still enjoyed sports, so decided to give rowing a try.”
Liz Chisholm, UFV’s longtime rowing coach, remembers vividly the first time she met Roman. After a Cascades rowing team information meeting in September of ’07, Roman approached Chisholm and begged her to save her a spot in the learn-to-row training sessions. She had to miss the first couple of practices due to figure skating commitments, but was keen to give the sport a try.
“I had about 60 students at the meeting, so she really stood out because of that, just her enthusiasm,” Chisholm recalled with a chuckle. “She didn’t want to miss a thing, or lose the chance.”
After her first few practices, Roman wasn’t so sure the sport was for her. It required full-body strength, and while she had strong legs from figure skating, she didn’t have much in the way of upper-body strength.
“She would leave practices with a very tired upper body, and sore arms,” Chisholm said. “But she had huge power in her legs, and she taught fitness classes, so she had a very good understanding of strength and fitness training.
“Once she picked it up, there was no one who could match her.”
Within a year, Roman was the Cascades’ top female rower, and during her second year, she tried out for and made Team B.C. for the Canada Summer Games in Charlottetown, PEI. After winning three medals (gold in women’s pairs and fours, silver in the eight), she began seeking out scholarship opportunities south of the border and ended up at Washington State University.
Roman continued to improve rapidly at WSU. In 2011, she landed a spot on Canada’s women’s eight for the U23 World Rowing Championships, and helped the team set a world age-class record that still stands. After graduating from Washington State in 2012, following a senior season which saw her earn second team All-America honours, she initially trained out of Burnaby before earning an invite to join Rowing Canada’s national training centre in London, Ont. in January of 2013.
Each year, the national team is re-selected from the pool of athletes at the training centre, and Roman has been chosen to represent Canada in international competition for three straight years. Her accolades include a pair of World Rowing Championship medals (bronze in 2013, silver in 2014) with the women’s eight.
This summer, her women’s eight boat has already won a pair of gold medals (at the World Rowing Cup 3 in Switzerland and the Henley Royal Regatta in England) and a silver (at the World Rowing Cup 2 in Italy), and they look to be in fine form heading into the World Championships in France in late August.
“This summer is very important for us because it’s qualifying year for the Olympics,” Roman noted. “The goal is to put our boat in a qualifying position while obtaining some hardware, and depending on the day, I believe we have the ability to have whichever hardware we choose. My dream is to go to the Olympics and represent Canada.”
Watching Roman’s pursuit of that goal has been a treat for Chisholm, who noted that the 25-year-old Langley product makes a point of coming back home to guest-coach with the UFV rowing team in September of each year.
“It’s really exhilarating to see how far an athlete can go from our local community,” Chisholm said. “To be introduced to a sport when you’re 18 years old and to do what she’s done so far, it’s fantastic.
“She climbed those steps very quickly.”