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Olympic hopeful Cameron recovers any way she can

Olympic hopeful Tracy Cameron (rowing) is photograhed at the Delta Meadowvale Hotel in Mississauga, Ont. Nov. 2/2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Lightweight rower Tracy Cameron has a novel way of getting herself back into the women's lightweight doubles boat heading to the Olympic Games in London.

She'll do anything. Even gnaw on a bone or two.

Cameron, the 2010 world champion in the lightweight women's doubles, lost her spot in the boat at the world championships last August in Bled, Slovenia because the suffered a stress fracture in a rib four weeks before the event.

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Without her, partner Lindsay Jennerich teamed up with newbie Patricia Obee to win a silver medal.

With the stress fracture diagnosis, Cameron's task was to do everything she could imagine to help the bone to repair as quickly as possible. Cameron pulled out a tome on The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones, written by Annemarie Colbin, the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute in Manhattan, where Cameron went to school following the Beijing Games.

Cameron poured over the book and started to cook up a storm: soybeans and whole fish, including the bones. "Even making soups or stocks that have used the bones of chicken or fish, helps bones to regenerate," Cameron said.

She began with her gormandizing and natural nibbling, but she also rested, and avoided any activities that would aggravate her stress fracture. She was banished to riding a bike. Even running was irritating, because running causes the rib cage to expand and it's rather jarring. "It was actually quite difficult," she said.

Cameron travelled with the crew to Slovenia with the off chance that she could compete, although she ended up racing only the singles event in pain. At her elbow was a powerful medical team: a massage therapist, a physiotherapist working on her three times a day, even using anti-inflammatory medications. "I think I used every modality under the sun to help speed or increase the injury healing," she said.

The best medicine of all? When the world championships were over, Cameron took a three-week vacation in France and The Netherlands with her boyfriend. They rented a car in Nice, headed to Monaco, toured La Provence, explored the wine region. They stayed at a castle at a vineyard where the meal was pegged to the wines. "Fabulous," said Cameron.

"I felt pampered," Cameron said. "We did the eat, drink and be merry."

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Her boyfriend had a conference in Amsterdam, and Cameron explored the shops, far from the realm of sports and competition. She was a regular person, the girl from Shubenacadie, N.S.

However, the good times came with a price. Cameron returned to Canada 10 pounds heavier. Mind you, her racing weight isn't healthy to maintain all the time, she said. She quickly returned to a "lightweight friendly" menu.

Because the national championships were just around the corner, Cameron really had to rein herself in. That's what lightweight rowers do. They make weight only when they really have to: at the weigh-in before the race. The average weight in the women's lightweight doubles boat (the only Olympic boat for lightweight women) is 57 kilograms. One person can't be more than 59.

Cameron tends toward a heavier weight because her partners in the boat have always been smaller. She's typically at 58 kilograms (127.6 pounds) when she weighs in. During the off-season, in the winter, her weight may climb as high as 62 kilograms (136.7 pounds). When she returned from her holiday, she weighed 64 kilograms.

Still, she eats good, clean food, a la Colbin: cooking that uses herbs and spices, and hold the sodium, so you don't retain water, which is heavy. Cameron's plan is to eat so that she reaches a calorie-neutral intake during training. If she expends 1,200 calories during her workout, she'll eat 1,200 calories, but will divide it up, with 600 calories ingested before and 600 calories afterward.

"I feel like when I'm done the weigh-in, the rest is easy," she said.

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The weigh-in is done two hours before the race. But as soon as lightweight rowers jump off the scale, they will drink a kilogram of water. Then they refuel (eat).

Getting rid of a kilogram is "no big deal," Cameron said. Most lightweight rowers sweat a kilogram before the weigh-in. Cameron does it with a hot spa bath, and if that doesn't do it, she bundles herself into bed, wrapped like a mummy. "It's not pleasant," she said. "But I try to put myself in the mindset that people pay a lot of money to do these spa, sweat things. This is great."

If they run for an hour, they sweat a kilogram of water, Cameron says. Studies have shown that the loss of a kilo of water will not decrease performance, she said.

With her stress fracture healed, but her conditioning out of whack, Cameron finished only third at nationals behind winner Patricia Obee and Jennerich. The top three were well ahead of all the rest, so they have been targeted to be candidates for the lightweight women's doubles boat.

During a training camp, Cameron felt completely out of shape. "I was being beaten by people I'd never been beaten by," she said. "I feel like I'm now at a good baseline, but I'm not where I know I can be and where I need to be."

For now, Cameron will trust in the process and keep an even keel mentally. She believes she can be back in the boat.

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