Article by Guest Writer Jill Moffatt, Canadian Olympic Athlete
With the Winter Olympics taking place throughout February, I thought I would share what it’s like to be an Olympian during a pandemic, and the how important community support is. Thanks for reading along and joining me on my journey to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games!
As a rower, I spend most of my days training on the beautiful lakes that Vancouver Island has to offer. Elk Lake, Shawinigan Lake, and Quamichan Lake, are all sites that we frequently visit, and we find ourselves consistently at their whim. Unlike sports that can be done indoors or even on a field, we are totally reliant weather systems to dictate where and how we can train.
I was first introduced to what climate change was when I watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ years ago and it immediately alarmed me. I believe in science and that climate change is the biggest threat to humanity, but at times it can seem like a faraway concept – something that doesn’t have an immediate impact on my day to day.
It may not seem like climate change is impacting me daily, but constant weather events and rising temperatures are impacting on our ability to enjoy the sport we love, and the nature we love to do it in.
Extreme Weather Events and Rowing
Flooding, fire, extreme heat, tropical storms, droughts, and various storm events have all impacted me as a national team rower. Although they are impacting the global community, I want to share how some of these events impact our ability to enjoy our sport.
Wildfire Smoke – In the fall of 2020, the wildfire smoke from wildfires in eastern and central Washington state blanketed the island. The national team was in the middle of what we call an “assessment series” to check in on speeds as we geared towards the Tokyo Olympics – but the smoke forced us to train inside for most of the week. This is something that we can anticipate more of as the wildfire seasons are getting longer and increasing in intensity. Without clean air, it is next to impossible to be out on the lake, nevertheless outside.
Tropical Storms – Back in 2017, Hurricane Irma almost cancelled the World Championships that were being hosted in Florida. It wasn’t until two weeks before the race that we knew if the event would happen, as other parts of Florida experienced widespread damage. The hurricane warnings risked travelling, the event, and most of all, safety.
Flooding – Flooding has a direct impact on our access to water, specifically at Quamichan Lake in Duncan. This past fall the amount of rainfall caused water levels to rise and the lake became inaccessible. We were able to get around this through connecting various docks, but for the Ottawa City Rowing Club in Ontario, flooding has had detrimental impacts. Located on the Ottawa River, their club was completely submerged after heavy rainfall caused extreme flooding, polluting the waterways and destroying infrastructure.
Climate Change and the Olympics
The Tokyo Games are a great example of how slow and subtle temperature rises over the last 100 years are now becoming more evident. A report published by the British Association for Sustainable Sport reported that in Tokyo, the average annual temperature has increased at a rate that is three-times more than the worlds average.
During the Games, the temperatures were close to 40 with a high level of humidity. We actually spent months preparing for this kind of heat. Under the supervision of our stellar physiologists and staff, we practiced training in extreme heat conditions and monitored our core body temperatures. We used ice vests, biomonitoring tools, slushies and more to adapt to the heat expected in Tokyo.
For events like the marathon and racewalking, they couldn’t host the events in Tokyo because of the extreme heat and the athletes competed Sapporo – 500 miles north of Olympic village.
For the Summer Olympics going forward, climate change poses a major threat. Studies out of the Lancet and around the world show that by 2050, many previous Games locations will no longer be viable due to extreme heat. For the Winter Olympics, increasing temperatures are impacting the number of viable places that can host the Games – one study shows that by 2080, over half of the previous sites will be to unreliable to host the Winter Olympics.
What Are We Doing About It?
Climate change impacts much more than our ability to take part in sport, it seems almost trivial when looking at the impact it has on Earth – but through sport and the Olympic movement, we can use the Olympic spirit to incite change.
Rowing Canada is currently in the process in joining the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Pledge and rowing clubs all around Canada are adapting. Things such as using solar panels, investing in rechargeable electric motors for safety boats and having a Climate Action working group at each club. The Victoria City Rowing Club is currently in the process of creating a Climate Action working group and targeting projects for Elk Lake.
For myself, I try to make daily choices that reflect my commitment to combatting climate change – regardless of how small it may seem. Carpooling, buying biodegradable products, reducing plastic use, and supporting businesses that have actionable policies and plans to reduce their carbon footprint…such as Big Wheel Burger!
Although I may not be able to influence policy directly, I can use my purchasing power to support businesses that are working to protect our planet.
Until next month!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Jill Moffatt and I am an Olympic rower living in Victoria, B.C. Big Wheel Burger is supporting me on my path to the Olympics and in exchange I’ll be sharing parts of that journey with you! Follow along each month for behind the scenes stories and other things outside of rowing that I am passionate about.