Support is rolling in for a 32-year-old Alberta rower who advanced to the Olympic finals this weekend and overcame serious injuries that included two weeks in a coma as a child.
Jessica Sevick, who was born in Calgary and raised in Strathmore, and Gabrielle Smith, of Unionville, Ont., advanced to the final of the women’s double sculls event on Sunday in Tokyo.
They finished in second place in the second semifinal race with a time of seven minutes and 9.44 seconds, 1.35 seconds behind the Netherlands’ team.
Jessica was 12 years old when she suffered a brain injury during a luge training run in Calgary.
“Some people say it must’ve been so negative,” recalled Jessica’s mom Karen Sevick. “We didn’t come away from it that way. We thought we were lucky she was still with us, and we will just move forward.”
Jessica was in a coma for two weeks at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“I remember a fellow said when she had her brain trauma that some children will decide to not move forward. Some children will decide to move forward, and we said we are hoping she’s one that wants to do that. She has kind of demonstrated that through her life,” Karen said.
Jessica went on to compete in basketball and biathlon but it was a serious knee injury while playing soccer in university that changed the course of her life.
“She has always been someone that tries to problem solve through her injuries,” Karen said.
On the advice of her physiotherapist, Jessica took up rowing at the age of 26. She won gold in the single sculls at the 2019 Pan Am Games.
Now she’s vying for an Olympic medal in Tokyo.
“Her dream always was to go to the Olympics, whether it be luge or biathlon or rowing. It seems like that’s a pretty big dream but she just kept moving forward. It’s incredibly exciting and surreal to actually see your daughter over there,” Karen said.
The mayor of Strathmore has known Jessica since she was a child.
“Jessica pushed herself, and she worked hard and did exactly what the medical advice was. She was patient, and she wanted to just keep improving,” said Pat Fule on Sunday.
Fule coached Jessica in basketball as a teenager and calls her an inspiration.
“When that dedication also helps you get to the Olympics, that’s an incredible amount of strength and courage that she can show to other kids,” Fule said.
“Maybe you do hurt yourself or you have an injury in sports but that doesn’t have to hold you back. It doesn’t have to define you. You can work hard and go off into other areas.”
Fule describes Jessica and strong and determined.
“She’s very grounded, and when she wants to learn something or do something, she will fight to make that happen, and she worked really hard over the years to come back from that head injury after the luge accident,” Fule said.
“I am really proud of her. I’m also relieved. I think it’s a blessing that she and her family were able to get through that horrible injury.”
Jessica’s parents Karen and Brian Sevick said they are overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from the Calgary Rowing Club and Rowing Canada Aviron, the national sports federation for rowing in Canada
“It’s extremely exciting but what has shocked us is the support we have received. From Strathmore, from our friends, from the rowing community,” Karen said.
Sevick and Smith are scheduled to race again on Tuesday evening MDT.