WINDSOR – This summer has been an emotional roller coaster for Windsor's hometown hero Ryan Cochrane.
The paddler, who resides in Quebec, found out July 31 that he was selected as a last-minute addition to represent Canada in Rio de Janeiro in mid-August.
“It's my second Olympics so it kind of legitimizes the first one,” said Ryan in a phone interview Aug. 2.
“The way that this one came about is very special as well. It was quite a fight. I'm just so excited to be able to race for Canada and hopefully make my country proud.”
Ryan, who grew up in Windsor, and his canoe/kayak sprint partner Hugues Fournel, will compete in the K2 200-metre race.
The pair competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and finished in seventh place.
“It's kind of a crazy story. The two of us has been through a lot together so it's really nice to be back together,” said Ryan, noting the pair have had other racing partners since the 2012 Olympic experience.
Leading up to the July 31 announcement, Ryan said he knew it was possible that he could get selected to compete – but a lot of stars would need to align.
First, the Russian doping scandal caused two paddlers to be suspended. Those competition spots were first offered to a Swedish crew, as they were next in line after placing eighth at the 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships. When they declined, that opened up the spot for Ryan and Fournel.
“When I found out I was indeed going, I woke up and went to training,” he said with a laugh.
His parents, Wendy and Kim Cochrane, and his girlfriend, two-time Olympian Mylanie Barre, were ecstatic, he said.
Ryan said he's focusing on the games.
“For me, it's like, 'OK, next step, don't be a participant, be a competitor',” said Ryan.
“It's sinking in now and it's feeling pretty good.”
But the summer hasn't been all roses for Ryan or his family.
“It's a little hard for me to talk about it,” said Ryan, as he mentions the loss of his grandmother, Hattie Spencer, of Windsor.
“In the long run, I think that she had something to do with this,” said Ryan, who would frequently visit his grandmother in her Grey Street home.
Wendy also feels his grandmother is rooting for him.
“My husband and I were both looking at each other one night and he said to me, 'you know, I know this is going to sound strange but I think Nanny was up above working her magic,' and I said 'you know what? I was just thinking the same thing',” said Wendy.
She described the July 11 loss as one that had a deep impact on both her sons – Ryan and Justin.
While Ryan's parents are delighted that their son was selected to head to Rio as he's worked hard to get there, it's bittersweet.
“It's sad for us because we've never missed any of his events, ever,” said Wendy.
“This is such a huge event in his life that it's kind of heartbreaking but I think we might be watching from home,” she said, her voice cracking as she explained how much it would cost.
Due to the last minute nature, Wendy said the trip would be too costly – with airline tickets costing $2,000 per person for a one way flight; and hotels costing between $400-$800 a night.
She said she wished the Olympic committee could help in some way so that the parents of athletes could afford to cheer on their children, especially when they only have a couple of weeks to prepare.
“It would be nice if there was some kind of way that they could do something for us parents who have gotten last word notices that our kids are going. I'm sure I'm not the only one that's sitting in the same boat,” she said.
Even if they can't be there in person, they will be cheering as they watch the live feeds on television.
And so will members of the Pisiquid Canoe Club – the club where Ryan first got his start in the sport.
“We are extremely proud and extremely pleased to hear the news,” said Brad Carrigan, the commodore of the club.
“Especially for our club, it shows the local community that you don’t have to be from one of the bigger Halifax clubs to succeed. You can be successful in the sport and you can reach the highest level of the sport by starting out at a small club like Ryan did,” he noted.
The members will host a viewing party to cheer on the two-time Olympian, with the date, location and time still to be determined.
There has been a lot of talk about the poor water quality at the Rio de Janeiro site, and concerns about athletes getting sick.
Ryan said he's taken the necessary vaccines and can't be concerned with 'what ifs'.
“I'm doing everything I can to make sure that nothing happens but… if something was to happen, that's completely out of my hands,” said Ryan. “I'm not going to stress and worry about that; I'll focus on the task at hand and take it as it comes.”
He said travelling to South America is something he's done frequently, and isn't going to let the fears prevent him from competing to his fullest potential.
“We've been to South America so many times racing,” said Ryan. “My partner has been to Rio twice. I've been to another place in Brazil three times and been to Mexico a bunch of times. We know all about the bacteria and the stuff that can make you sick.”
Although they don't have a departure date yet, Ryan said they'll likely be leaving around Aug. 12 and competing on Aug. 17.
“He's totally impressed us with how professional he's been,” Wendy said, adding they couldn't be more proud of their son.
• Ryan Cochrane lives in Lac Beauport, Quebec, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and grew up in Windsor.
• Ryan's girlfriend is two-time Olympian Mylanie Barre. They have two children, Layla and Logan.
• Ryan got his start at the Pisiquid Canoe Club and was the first athlete from the club to go to the junior worlds competition.
• This is the second time that Team Canada has sent two athletes with the same name – and both involved with water-related sports. Windsor's Ryan Cochrane is a paddler, while the other Ryan Cochrane is a swimmer.