Tears fill Jennifer Walinga’s eyes as she holds her gift of a gold medal.
Moments earlier standing at the Esquimalt Lagoon, Walinga beamed with excitement recapping her life as a rower for Team Canada.
“For two years we were indomitable, it was a stronger-than-the-sum-of-parts type of thing. It was magical,” said the director of the School of Communications and Culture at Royal Roads University. “As individuals we weren’t that strong, but together as a combination we were unstoppable.”
Walinga and teammates Kirsten Barnes, Brenda Taylor and Jessica Monroe-Gonin met in 1988 and formed the team in 1990.
Walinga held the stroke position in both the fours and eights coxless teams.
“I sat at the stern and set the pace and the rhythm for the team,” she explained.
In 1991 Walinga’s teams won both events at the World Rowing Championships in Vienna where they set a world record unbroken for the next 20 years.
“I can’t remember the time, but it was bloody fast,” she said with a laugh.
During the world championships Walinga pushed through back troubles to compete, causing permanent injury.
“I raced when I shouldn’t have, I didn’t understand how much damage I could do,” Walinga said.
Spare rower Kay Worthington replaced her at the Olympics and Walinga watched from the sidelines as her team dominated and won both events.
“I knew they were going to be fine, I was worried I would let them down,” Walinga said. “I did worry I would be jealous if they won, but I wasn’t.”
A month after the Games, the athletes were reunited for rower Andy Crosby’s wedding.
“Brenda (Taylor) came to me and said ‘I got something for you.’ I thought it was shampoo I left in the room or something like a shirt,” recalled Walinga. Instead, her teammate handed her one of the two gold medals she had been awarded.
Walinga declined but Taylor wouldn’t take no for an answer insisting Walinga had earned it too.
“At the Olympics for curling or basketball, everyone on the team gets a medal, but not for rowing. Only the people in the boat get one,” said Walinga, wiping tears from her eyes.
Walinga and her teammates, all of whom still live on the West Coast, will be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for the 1992 women’s Olympic gold medal coxless four rowing team at a ceremony in Toronto on June 7.
Walinga, who lives in Cadboro Bay, will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame in her hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, Oct. 16. She plans to attend both events.