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Pan Am profile: Canoeist and flag bearer Mark Oldershaw ready for the water

Last Updated Jul 23, 2015 at 5:24 pm EST

The murky brown water is calm even though the canoe club is bustling with classes getting underway.

It’s only 7 a.m. on July 7 and the morning sun is streaming through the clouds over the water.

Mark Oldershaw walks through the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville, Ontario, a second home to him. He lifts up his white canoe as if it’s weightless. His left hand grips the inside seat of the canoe as he balances the boat on his left hip.

At that point, the Pan Am Games were only a few days out and he still “loves” his morning paddle on the creek. It is the perfect place to get ready for the Games.

Oldershaw trains 10 times a week between the water and the gym.

He walks down the wooden rickety dock in stride before plopping the canoe into the water. It looks effortless, as if he’s done it a million times before.

And he has.

A small scar, almost invisible at first, marks the inside of his palm only a millimetre wide. He had to undergo two surgeries on his left hand to get rid a cancerous bone tumor.
“It caused an immense amount of pain,” says Oldershaw as he stands near the water. “It made me wonder if I was ever going to go to the Olympics.”
Oldershaw, who first paddled in a canoe at the age of seven and began racing at the age of nine, grew up just a short 18-kilometre drive west of the club in Burlington.

His family grew up on the water and were no strangers to representing Canada on the world stage of athletics.

At the London 2012 Olympics, Oldershaw stood on the podium with a bronze medal, adding to his family’s hardware. And although this will be his first Pan Am Games, his brother, Adam, raced in one before.

“Having three generations is pretty special in the family,” said his father, Scott. “We didn’t set out to do that, that wasn’t the goal … but it happened.”

His father raced in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and his grandfather, Bert, competed in the 1948, 1952 and 1956 Olympics. Two of Oldershaw’s uncles were also Olympians. Oldershaw will be the fifth person in his family to compete at the Olympics.

Scott admitted that he gets more nervous about his son taking to the water more than he ever did about himself. His words of advice are limited, instead he trusts in his son to stay focused and “do what he does well.”

Oldershaw said he is more confident than ever, that he’s ready to go.

It took some time to get that confidence back because he knows when racing the best in the world he still has to be “100 per cent confident” in himself.

The Pan Am Games semi for his event, the men’s C-1 1,000 metre, will take place on July 11, with the final on July 13.

Not only is Oldershaw a medal hopeful, he will lead the entire Canadian team into the opening ceremony for the Games on Friday night holding the Canadian flag in his hand.

Family was a big part of what got him through the hand surgery.

His wife, Annamay Pierse, is a former world record holder in the 200-metre breast stroke and an Olympic Swimmer.

The Olympian blood could be continuing in their family with their first child on the way.

“It [canoeing] is a great sport for kids and families,” he said, optimistic that his child will be involved in canoeing.

“My wife is going to try to get it in the pool,” he laughs.