By Lisa Bucher
Victoria Nolan isn’t new to National sports, she retired from rowing after the London 2012 Paralympic summer games in order to spend more time with her family. She missed having a training plan and goals for herself. So she took on cycling as a new challenge. Olympic rower, Sarah Bonikowsky Chaudhery retired at the same time and now pilots their tandem cycle.
At the age of 18, Nolan was diagnosed- with retinitis pigmentosa. “At that point I was shocked to find out I was already legally blind,” she said. “I had- lost 90 percent of my sight and had no idea. Because I lost it gradually I just learned how to adapt to it.” She was able to read even up to university.
It was after having her two children that she went through a lot of vision changes in a short amount of time and that was the hardest time of her life. She adapted to her vision loss by memorizing her environment. She used to use a cane, but she has a guide dog. She came to realize that she needed to find something that would force her to get out of the house and be independent in order to be a good role for her children.
In 2006, at the age of 31, Nolan started rowing, “rowing is a late entry sport, but not usually that late,” she laughed. “I decided to try to find a sport and tried different things.”
“The rowing is kind of funny because it just popped into my head to give it a try.” She looked it up and they were advertising a program for people with disabilities and that is what sold her on trying it. She ended up winning a spot in the national para-rowing team and competed at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. This was the first year rowing was a Paralympic sport.
“London was disappointing for us because we had won the World Cham- pionships in 2010,” she said. “So we were expecting to do very well.” They ended up finishing 7th. “It was a disappointment in that sense but the experience at the Paralympics was amazing.”
In 2010, the world masters competi- tion was in St. Catherines, ON and she entered the abled body category against women her own age to see how she would do. “My rowing part- ner was born without three of her fingers. The two of us entered and we won the gold and that was really cool.”
“When we were training before weleft for the world championships we would often look for men’s crews to train against because our boat was two men and two women,” she said. So if they could find a boat with four men it was a pretty good challenge for them to take on. “The first time we did that we pulled up to the start line and there was a bunch of men’s crews and they were like you guys are in the wrong race,” she said. They explained that they were going to race them as a way to get practice. “They asked us if we wanted a head start. We said no and we beat all of the crews,” she laughed.
Before leaving for New Zealand the team had a stop in Vancouver. Nolan was traveling with her guide dog. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, she had to leave her guide dog in Vancouver. “It’s not even like leaving your pet behind this is almost like a part of
me and I had to leave him.”
“What I thought was the only way to make this worthwhile was to come back with a medal,” she said. “So that is what fueled me through the race. It was an incredible race.” Great Britain has always been the team to beat and they were neck and neck with them all the way down the racecourse. It was so close, and then they ended up pulling ahead of them, beating them by just half a second.
“I remember thinking; I am never doing that again,” she laughed. “I was thrilled that we were up on the podium and they were playing Oh Canada. But there was also that feeling; I was in pain for a long time after.”
“My kids are very proud of me,” she said. “When they were younger it was great. I always thought they would be em- barrassed to tell people their mom can’t see. It ended up being the first thing they would tell people. They would say my mom is blind but she rows for Canada. They are really proud of it.”
By Lisa Bucher