Varsity Rowing Team
Is Making Waves
Novice rowers make impressive showing
at provincial championships
Prof. Walter Kehm, Landscape Architecture, wasn't
sure what to expect. There at the start line was a crew
of eight U of G students, poised over the oars in their
20-year-old racing shell, waiting for the signal for the
novice women's eight final in St. Catharines in November.
Having dominated their category for the entire season,
the crew had easily won the first heat to advance to the
final round. Still, this was only the first season of varsity
rowing for them, as it was for the other Gryphon women's
and men's crews competing in the varsity OUA rowing championships.
How well would Guelph stand up against seasoned teams from
the likes of Toronto, Western and Queen's?
More than respectably, as it turned out. That novice crew
powered its way through a rain- and wind-swept course to
a gold medal. Later, the heavyweight women's four from U
of G captured a bronze medal in their event.
"It's been quite amazing," says Kehm, founding
president of the three-year-old Guelph Rowing Club and one
of several coaches of the new varsity team working with
head coach Brian Sulley.
"We've suddenly found ourselves in a situation in
our first varsity season of being very successful. The crew
of new women varsity rowers has just got people talking."
People aren't just talking. They're rowing, if the growing
popularity of a young club in Guelph is any indication.
Three years after Kehm helped launch a learn-to-row program,
the Guelph Rowing Club now includes about 120 dues-paying
members in high school, varsity and master's competitive
and recreational rowing, plus about 150 to 200 people enrolled
in learn-to-row instruction.
The varsity team now includes about 40 students. Another
30 to 40 students, staff and faculty belong to the University
Rowing Club, which is part of the Guelph club. So is the
local high school rowing program begun in 2000, which drew
about 60 public students this year to compete in about 10
Kehm says that local growth reflects "exploding"
interest across Canada, particularly in the wake of recent
high-profile successes of championship rowers such as Silken
Laumann, Marnie McBean and Katharine Heddle. "Canada's
one of the rowing powers of the world," he says.
Both as a sport and a recreational pastime, rowing has
become especially popular among women. About seven out of
10 rowers today are female, a turnaround for a sport once
considered a male, Ivy League bastion.
Put together that trend with an increasing proportion of
female students attending U of G, and Kehm says the University's
competitive and recreational rowing program might even become
a tool for student recruitment efforts. "I could see
this being a big draw."
Margaret Timmins, administrative assistant in the Department
of Food Science and a member of the Guelph Rowing Club,
says Olympic rowers generally come out of the university
system. "And the more university clubs we have, the
better I think it's going to make rowing in Canada. I think
it's wonderful that the students at Guelph now have that
opportunity to be involved in rowing."
Timmins's own involvement began two years ago with the
learn-to-row program. In September, she competed among more
than 3,000 athletes at the world master's meet (for rowers
age 27 and older) in Montreal with her doubles partner,
Pat Passmore, of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food
and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
"We're a unique University of Guelph-OMAFRA partnership,
a different little twist," says Timmins. Having paired
up after rowing together last year on a women's four team,
they're now aiming for the world championships in France
The Guelph Rowing Club sprang out of planning for the 1998
Summer University Games held in the city, for which Kehm
co-ordinated the rowing, canoeing and kayaking events on
Noting the club's scope from high school students to seniors,
Pat Weir, a veterinary technician in OVC, says: "When
they say it's a lifetime sport, it truly is."
Adds Timmins: "What's wonderful about the sport is,
it's something you can start later on in life and still
have the opportunity to reach a level of proficiency where
you can be competitive. That's a real plus for people."
That sentiment is echoed by Passmore, who says she plans
to continue rowing "as far as I can. They can bury
me in the boat."
The "all for one, one for all" spirit also makes
rowing a natural team-building exercise, says Kehm.
Passmore agrees: "There are absolutely no egos in
a boat. Everyone has to work together."
Kehm has been rowing since 1955, when the New York City
native saw his first regatta on a video clip. He chose to
attend Syracuse University not just because it was in his
state but also because it offered a rowing program.
Now a Guelph Rowing Club coach and master rower, he competed
last summer at the Henley Regatta in St. Catharines, where
his men's four crew won a silver medal. He calls rowing
"the graceful application of power, not the grunt contact
thing of football or rugby. If you don't row gracefully,
the boat doesn't move."
Weir says she has always liked the look of rowing. And
besides its esthetic and physical benefits, she had another
goal in mind when she enrolled in the inaugural learn-to-row
program: to pass the mandatory swim test.
"I'm actually afraid of water," she says. "One
of the reasons I wanted to row was to work on that."
Now a learn-to-row instructor herself, she says her swimming
has improved. "I don't even think about it now when
I get into the boat."