UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Spring 2003,
Volume 24, Number 1

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Photography by Rob Kruyt The Crazy Beauty of Rowing
Photography by Rob Kruyt

You don't have to be a star to be in these boats. Just bring guts, determination and a tolerance for blisters and burning muscles.

FOR VIKES ROWERS, THE LURE IS IN THE EARLY MORNING PRACTICES, the sunrises over Elk Lake and the sound of oars sweeping through the water.

“I don’t do this to win races,” says men’s captain Bart Stockdill. “It’s a lifestyle. For the eight or nine regattas we go to in the academic year, that’s eight or nine days. The rest of the time, we’re training.” More than 30 Olympians got their start with the Vikes, but Stockdill says that standard is only a small part of what keeps generations of athletes coming to the boathouse.

A 25-year-old mechanical engineering master’s student, Stockdill started as a novice rower four years ago, fresh from a summer co-op placement. “I walked in, briefcase and all,” he says. “I hadn’t participated in organized sports, except in elementary school.”

He remembers the morning light at his first practice, the camaraderie of novice rowing, the feeling that there was nothing to lose. “At our first regatta at Deep Cove, I remember (in the novice race) a boat that started out in lane one and ended up in lane five,” he says. “All of these novices...it was more like a naval battle than a race. On the second day, the varsity eights came over and I saw them glide across the water. I wanted to be in that boat. I wanted to be like that.”

Stockdill advanced to the varsity level through a combination of his own motivation, the support of his teammates and coach Howie Campbell’s direction and encouragement. It took willpower.

“I did a fair bit of running and cross-training before I started rowing, but in the first three months, everything hurt,” Stockdill says. “About a month and a half in, you finish a practice and everything in your body hurts, and all you want to do is go to sleep somewhere. It gets better with time, but it never really goes away.”

Campbell says to succeed, a rower needs focus. “I try to act a bit like a mirror sometimes,” he says. “But I don’t try to steer the athletes any particular way, because my own prejudice can get in the way. Not everyone can be an Olympic champion.”

Women’s coach Rick Crawley takes a similar approach. “I tried coaching as a control freak, but it didn’t suit what I wanted to do,” he says. “I have a quote on my wall by William Arthur Ward. It says ‘Flatter me and I may not believe you, criticize me and I may not like you, ignore me and I may not forgive you, encourage me and I may not forget you.’”

In 1972, Crawley started the women’s program at the Ottawa Rowing Club, though his peers didn’t think women had a place in the sport. “They said it was too strenuous,” he says, exasperated. “I was amazed: women could bear children, yet the powers that be thought they were too delicate to row.” The Ottawa women proved tough enough, and Crawley developed a reputation for winning.

“I think what I’m impressed with about Rick is he is one man amid 60 women,” says 20-year-old varsity lightweight Lindsay Jennerich. “You’d think some things might go over his head sometimes, but he’s really aware of what’s going on.”

In part, Jennerich came to the Vikes because she saw the UVic program as a stepping-stone to the Victoria-based national team. “When (Crawley) gets a rower with that capability (for the national team), he’s really open to giving that person up,” she says. “I’d like to go as far as I can go-at this point my aspirations are the Olympics and maybe a few senior A world championships.”

As head coach of both Rowing British Columbia and the women’s rowing program at UBC, Craig Pond says the national team gives UVic an unfair advantage in recruiting rowers. “They’ve been able to use that as a very key attraction,” he says. “That point would be taken very negatively by Rick, but it’s the truth...it’s frustrating as a coach to have to lose talented rowers because of the national team lure. At the same time, it’s a challenge. It motivates me as a coach.”

Stockdill-who rowed for UBC while on a Vancouver co-op term-says Pond has a point, but losing athletes to the national team is hard for the UVic program, too. For exactly that reason, Crawley and Campbell keep building a strong base of beginners. And in cultivating athletes, they stress that determination often matters more than skill.

Take lightweight rower Ian Cooper, for example. “Two years ago Ian came to the program, a little scrawny guy from Shawnigan Lake,” Campbell chuckles. “No one wanted to row with him. I told him he needed miles...I stuck him in any boat where I could put him, and he kept showing up. He just made the varsity eight this year.”

That first year, improving was all Cooper thought about. “I wasn’t good enough to row with anyone,” he explains. “I was stuck in something called a recreational single.” He got the miles Campbell recommended, through what non-rowers might consider a process of self-torture.

“My hands...I would have three blisters on each finger,” he says. “It was pretty bad. You can’t wear gloves (to let the blisters heal) or you lose your grip. And there are times when your legs are absolutely on fire. Your brain is telling you to stop rowing, and then another part of your brain is telling the first part to shut up. It’s not mind over matter, it’s mind over mind.”

Cooper still sticks to a killer schedule. “I row 10 to 12 times a week,” he says. “We do a workout on the erg (rowing machine) once a week called the ‘hour of power’ and I do 16 kilometers. That’s 1600 calories. I’m 5’11”, 157 pounds, so I eat all day.”

Plenty of people ask Cooper if rowing is boring, and he understands why. They see a group of athletes doing something repetitive. They don’t know they are witnessing an unceasing quest for perfection. “There’s a rowing poster that says ‘My love is a noble madness.’ I think the motivation is more than competitive spirit. It’s beautiful and it’s crazy at the same time.”

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