The rapid ascension of Curtis Halladay
by Randy Pascal
Curtis Halladay could not have envisioned the heights to which he would climb in such short order. But he sure as heck knew that he wasn't about
to let life keep him down.
"It's a low, you're going to come right back up," noted the 20 year-old world record holder. "I knew that I wasn't just going to end my sporting career
Flashback to May of 2012. An active athlete who competed in football, basketball and volleyball during his early years at Collège Notre-Dame,
Halladay had developed a particular affinity for motorcross, riding since he was eight and racing by the age of ten.
With no racing circuits in Sudbury, Halladay was circling a track on Manitoulin Island. "I was coming around a corner and my foot slipped off the foot
peg," he recalled. "I didn't have time to correct before the jump, so I hit it all off-balance and stuff."
"It launched me over the bike and I took all the impact of the fall on my butt." The end result was a dislocated hip and severed sciatic nerve, the
latter of which essentially paralyzed his left leg below the knee.
Out of commission completely for three months, Halladay returned to the gym shortly thereafter, partly to complete his rehab, partly to find an outlet for
the activities he could no longer do, working his upper body extensively, something he had done from time to time before his accident.
"I took it more serious afterwards, only because I wasn't playing traditional sports. I needed something to kind of fill the time." That outlet
introduced Halladay to Thomas Hums, another sporting crossover athlete who was taking quickly to weighlifting.
"Thomas was training some of the Laurentian rowers, and he was aware that (coach) Amanda (Schweinbenz) is always on the lookout for tall, athletic
people," said Halladay. At 6'5", Halladay would catch the finely-tuned eye of the local rowing mentor who first introduced current national team member Carling
Zeeman to the sport.
"I was pretty excited to start a sport again," acknowledged Halladay. "But when she first started talking, it was kind of overwhelming. She wants
people that are super-dedicated." The Sport and Physical Education student wasn't completely sure that he was ready for that kind of commitment.
In March of 2014, Halladay began a scaled-down training regimen that Schweinbenz believed could lead the local athlete all the way to the Row the
Podium program. "She knows very well what people are capable of, even if you don't realize it yet," stated Halladay with a smile.
"An she can explain things from a different perspective. I can be fully aware of what the problem is in the boat, but she knows exactly how to fix it."
The partnership produced results. Quickly. Incredible results.
In February of this year, Halladay set a new world record in the Para Rowing LTA-PD event at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships in Mississauga,
besting two previous standards with a 1000 metre time of 2:56.6, a clocking that we would better again in Boston in March (2:56.1).
Still, when winter eventually lifts in Northern Ontario, Halladay will get back on the water for only his second summer. And it is on the water where
the phenomenal times from the ergometers must be translated in order for him to target the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
His rapid ascension has been nothing short of astounding, but Halladay understands that there is little time to rest on his laurels. "In terms of where
my strength and aerobic fitness is, compared to where my rowing technique on the water, my technique is lagging a little bit," he said.
"Once I clean that up, there will be some improvements. I'm much faster on the erg than I am on the water. I need to have more time in the boat." So
where exactly does Halladay's potential reach its zenith?
The eldest of two children in the family is not about to quantify that answer, at least not yet. "I can't say exact numbers for sure," noted Halladay.
"As long as I'm putting in all the hours, and putting in all the kilometres, and putting a lot of effort into my training, that's all I can do to
A plateau, a levelling of the learning curve will soon arrive. "Because I am so new, I'm still seeing beginner gains," admitted Halladay. "Things will
slow down at some point. Readjusting to not seeing the huge gains will be the next challenge."
"I just have to stay focused and not let the slower progress get to me, because it's only natural." And for Curtis Halladay, it's only natural to tackle
every challenge that life might send your way head on, no matter how daunting that challenge might be.