'It’s just totally surreal': Gold-medal Olympian returns home to Calgary

The Tokyo Olympics ended in gold for Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, but she almost didn’t have the chance to earn the medal.

Gruchalla-Wesierski and her team snagged gold in the women’s eight rowing final, the first time for Canada in 29 years in that event.

“It’s just totally surreal… I just can’t quite believe it,” said Gruchalla-Wesierski.

The 30-year-old recalls the team starting off strong in the race.

“Ok, we're beating really fast crews out of the start, this is a really, really great way to start a race,” said Gruchalla-Wesierski.

“The middle 1,000’s kind of our bread and butter and so once we were ahead there I was like, ‘Nobody’s going to walk through us today.’”

“We could see Kasia in the boat in quite a lot of the shots,” said Tad Gruchalla-Wesierski, Kasia’s father. “Christina’s going, ‘There’s Kasia, we’re doing great.’”

Gruchalla-Wesierski had to push herself especially hard to make it to the Olympics, six weeks before the finals, she was in a cycling accident.

“The x-rays came in, she said her clavicle’s broken, and I just thought, ‘That’s it, her dream is done,’” said Tad Gruchalla-Wesierski.

Instead of giving up on her Olympic dream, Gruchalla-Wesierski’s team decided she would get surgery.

After 57 stitches and recovery time, the rower worked to re-earn her spot on the boat. She arrived in Tokyo 10 days after the rest of her team did.

“Luckily I have an amazing support team within Rowing Canada and a bunch of other surgeons in my circle,” said Gruchalla-Wesierski.

 “We're just so proud of her and so grateful that things worked out,” added Tad Gruchalla-Wesierski.

The rower arrived home in Calgary to the cheers of friends and family, celebrating her win.

“I'm just so excited to see everybody and to share this moment with them,” said Gruchalla-Wesierski.

She planned to indulge in sleep, beer and poutine, along with spending time with family and friends.

With files from CTV News Calgary’s Kathy Le