A Monmouth student is combining his passion for dogs and running to become a force on the world stage.
Sixteen-year-old Rowan is celebrating World and European triumphs just several weeks apart in the fast-paced sport of canicross.
Representing Great Britain, Rowan and his canine companion, Vrank, won gold at the 2018 International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) European Championship Dryland in Nybro, Sweden last weekend.
Their success was hot-on the-heels of a memorable gold and bronze medal haul at the 2018 International Canicross Federation World Championships in Poland.
With Vrank, a Dutch-born race-bred dog less than two years of age, Rowan is hoping the pair will experience further titles together as their confidence grows.
“I have had Vrank since he was young so we have got to know each other very well and that helps when we run in competitions,” said Rowan, a Year 11 pupil at Monmouth School for Boys.
“I have a very good relationship with Vrank, who is a pointer mixed with greyhound.
“We run our competition distances frequently in training and we go biking together and that’s a very good way to train your dog because it helps improve your average speed.
“Vrank is on excellent form at the moment but I know he can get even faster with more training in different conditions and temperatures.”
Canicross is a popular activity in Europe, where it is used to train dog-sled teams. A sport of running off-road with your dog, the athlete wears a waistbelt which attaches via a line to a padded dog harness. The sport is growing quickly in the UK with weekly competitions taking place across the country.
Rowan, who enjoys coaching sports and also plays cricket and football, hit top form in Sweden, against the cream of Europe, in the junior men’s aged 15-19 canicross class.
The former Forest of Dean Canicross Club member and his dog were outstanding over the two days, winning the gold medal by a margin of 100 seconds.
The duo clocked an impressive 13 mins 21 seconds over the 4.5km course – a time which would have put them eighth in the elite men’s class.
In the World Championships in Poland at the beginning of October, the pair were clear winners in the 15 to 19 age section, storming to victory 40 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals. They were also selected for GB A-team in the elite men’s relay event and won the first leg from a mass start to help the team to a bronze medal.
Rowan first started competing in canicross in 2010, initially with his kelpie cross, Henry, and then with Wima, who is taking a break from the sport.
“When I was aged nine or 10, I started doing agility with dogs but my mum got involved in canicross and invited me to have a go,” he said.
“Most of my events are at the weekends and during the holidays, but the school has been very supportive in allowing me time off for major competitions.”
Rowan will now be focusing on his GCSEs but has set his sights on next year’s World Championships in Latvia and the European Championships in Belgium.
“I have always been sporty and enjoy running, so canicross combines my love of dogs and running,” he said.
“I am fortunate to have raced in other competitions in France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Germany and it feels amazing to be a World and European champion because the competition is so tough.
“Having a good relationship and understanding your dog is vital. Once you have done that, you can really enjoy the wonderful sport of canicross.”