Rowers working to build on past success

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009


Jonas Hrebeniuk

SYNCHRONIZING THEIR WAY TO THE TOP. The men's heavyweight eight rowing team works on improving their times at Tuesday morning's practice. The unit, along with other men's and women's teams, compete nearly every weekend from August to November.

“There is something unique about the sport. There’s something about getting to an eight [person race] with the entire crew and getting out there to the water, even if it’s one or two degrees out, and when the boat gets moving, everything gels together.”

The attitude expressed toward the sport of rowing by men’s lightweight rower Cam Sylvester is one shared among the members of Western’s men’s and women’s rowing teams.

While both teams are coming off successful seasons, capturing gold at both the Ontario University Athletics championships and Canadian University Rowing Championships, neither team is taking victory for granted.

On the contrary, both teams are training as hard as ever, looking to build on past successes.

“If you want to be on the varsity team, you have to train year-round,” men’s coach Volker Nolte says. “Our season goes from August to November, and after, winter training from December to March.

“In the summer time, the rowers have to join and row with a club. The level of university rowing is so high you cannot succeed without year-round training.”

A typical weekday morning for the rowers on each team begins at 5 a.m. in order to arrive for training at Fanshawe Lake. Training lasts for almost two hours, before athletes leave for class.

Weekends are typically filled either with two-day regattas or training camp sessions, leaving Monday as the sole day rowers are away from the water.

While the months are grueling, the hard work is equally satisfying.

“In the mornings when the sun is coming up, it’s a gorgeous day, the water’s flat and the girls are pulling hard, it’s always nice to be out on the water,” says Emma Ferguson, coxie for the women’s lightweight eight boat.

Ferguson, a fourth-year veteran, says the older rowers on the team try and incorporate rookies as much as possible to keep them motivated throughout the year.

“I think as veterans we don’t try to be like ‘we’re veterans, you’re rookies, we’re better than you.’ It’s more of a team aspect. We want Western to go fast, and who cares if there’s a first year in the boat or a veteran, we want our team to go fast.”

The hardships rowers endure together as the year goes on is what makes the team strong, Nolte adds.

“Rowing is very hard. You have to be able to do 2,000 metres flat out together with no rest,” he says. “If you can’t trust the person you work with, you’ll be no good. This is why we train so hard, so they can go to the start of the race and know they can win.”

Western’s previous success in rowing is a motivating factor. To date, the school has had over 70 rowers represent Canada internationally at rowing competitions, including Olympians such as Silken Laumann and Marnie McBean.

On a team level, the Mustangs have won eight of the last 15 OUA men’s championships and nine out of the last 15 women’s OUA titles. While both teams feature a number of new faces this year, expectations have not subsided for either team.

“We’d like to match last year’s results or even go beyond them,” Ferguson says.

Beyond the success at regattas and other events, like many other athletes, Sylvester says the passion for the sport is ultimately what keeps people coming back to train day in and day out.

“There’s something about the uniformity of having all eight people pulling so much power in the boat, and when it comes together, it’s a thrilling feeling. That’s enough to keep you getting up at 5 a.m. every morning.”

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