INNISFAIL – Fourteen months ago local BMX rider Carson Kowaski went into a major race in Tulsa, Oklahoma with huge but realistic expectations he would once again turn heads and earn an outstanding result.
After all, the year before he also made heads turn as a 13-year-old at the UCI BMX World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan when he finished fourth overall.
It was not to be. Kowaski finished in 18th place, a big personal disappointment.
“After that race I wasn’t motivated because I didn’t perform to where I wanted to be. I think I took three weeks off after that,” said Kowaski. “But then I was pumped and ready to race for the 2020 season.
“I started training for worlds in May and then they had to cancel it due to COVID.”
COVID or no COVID, the 16-year-old BMX rider never had a thought of giving up.
Kowaski continued to train hard for the rest of the year and into 2021, usually six days a week, including a trio of rigorous workouts at the gym every week.
“I go to the track as many times as I can but in the last year it has been tough due to COVID,” said Kowaski, who has trained at the outdoor Red Deer BMX track from spring to fall and at the Olds’ Alberta Indoor BMX Center in winter.
In November, proof came his hard work was paying off. Kowaski was selected on Cycling Canada’s roster of 2021 NextGen Athletes, an Olympic development team where the country’s finest up and comers compete hard amongst themselves to make it to this summer’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
And making it to this big show is definitely what Kowaski is aiming at.
“I was definitely surprised. I had a little bit of worry if I would make it or not,” said Kowaski of being selected to the development team. "During the summer I was in B.C. and I was training with the national team, so I kind of got to prove myself even though there was no racing, to prove that I improved, so they got to see and meet me. I am happy I got it.”
The 2020 COVID year ended with Kowaski being invited to train in California, and then competing in Phoenix, Ariz. from Jan. 8 to 10. He then goes back to California for more training.
He will be among just a handful of Canadians competing in the Phoenix race, including Red Deer’s Molly Simpson, another NextGen BMX rider.
The young Innisfailian is doing all this training, competing and traveling while continuing with his high school studies.
A former Innisfail High School student, he is now taking Grade 10 online schooling. There is very little time to have a social life but he always has his family back home in Innisfail; a mom, dad, two brothers and a sister.
With his current commitment and passion for his sport, and his dream of BMX riding at this summer’s Olympic games, Kowaski leans on the support from his family to get through the tough and often gruelling times of training, preparing and competing.
“The support definitely helps me mentally. If I have my family on my side it definitely helps me,” he said. “If I need help, I will talk to my dad, and he will help me calm down or laugh.
"Travelling-wise my whole family will pitch in sometimes to get me to a race if I can’t make it, and that helps a lot.”
It’s not only the physical side of training that is grueling for the Innisfail teen but the mental side as well, and he has a plan of action for that.
“It’s nerves, nerves, definitely a big one. I haven’t raced in a while. I haven’t felt that feeling of riding within a pack in a race for a while,” he said. “That is one thing that worries me but I am pretty sure I can perform."
“I have started doing meditations before I fall to sleep and visualize before, and I will write down my thoughts in a journal of how I feel with training, or how I felt during the day," he added. “I can then read back to see how I felt.”
The training has been hard. He is focused on that, and on Phoenix where he will compete for the first time in 14 months. There will be jitters, but the heart and commitment are there.
“I definitely want to get back into it as it has been a while,” he said. “I want to see where I am at because over the past year I have just been training.
"I want to see where I perform, and obviously my goal is to win but I will definitely be happy if I get top eight.”