Rowing is a lifestlye Drew van Bourgondien has happily adopted.
But it’s not one the 15-year-old originally set out for when she started at St. Andrew’s Regional School.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a rower and I can easily say it’s become part of my life,” she said on Sunday afternoon. “Coach (Alia Zawacki) has taught us a lot and pushed us hard.”
Van Bourgondien watched the final races of the high school city rowing championships at Elk Lake from her team’s tent with many of her St. Andrew’s teammates. Theirs was one of the many collapse-able gazebos that leant a festival vibe to the regatta, and protected rowers and spectators from the rain.
“It was a great weekend for us,” said Zawacki, co-ordinator and head coach of the St. Andrew’s Rowing Academy. The former five-time national champ with the Vikes built the program herself, and will see many of the crews to nationals this spring.
“This is a very young program, our second year, so we’re particularly excited about winning so many junior (Grade 9 and 10) and Grade 8 events,” Zawacki said.
St. Andrew’s won six of the city championship’s 25 events – one behind overall leader Claremont, the region’s other high school rowing academy.
Rowing, it seems, is becoming more popular with the youth of Greater Victoria.
“From what I understand, the city rowing league started in the 1980s with about 40 rowers, and it’s up to 600 now,” said Kevin Light, first-year coach of the Claremont rowing academy.
The Olympic gold-medalist and Stelly’s grad heads Claremont’s academy, but it’s the academy’s assistant coach Erica Shaw who leads the after school program.
“There are strong after-school rowers as well as academy rowers,” Light said. “Quite a few (Claremont) rowers choose to train outside of school with the Victoria City Rowing Club rather than the academy,” Light said.
In addition to Claremont’s seven wins at the city championships, the Saanich school had five second-place finishes. In three events, the senior women’s quad and eight, and the junior men’s eight, Claremont finished first and second.
“We had a pretty good idea that they were a good overall crew, based on results from the earlier regattas,” Light said. “It was just a matter of preparing properly and working hard.”
More than anything, the key for young rowers is time in the water, Light said.
“I’d say it’s about 80 per cent fitness, 15 per cent technique and only about five per cent strategy.”
The most dynamic story on Sunday afternoon was the duel of St. Michaels University School’s Jake McCallum versus Parkland secondary’s Ethan Pennell in the senior men’s single scull.
Pennell, a Grade 12 student, won the event at the school rowing league’s Annual Regatta at Elk Lake on Oct. 21, with McCallum taking second. In the city final, however, it was McCallum getting the upper hand, but not without a little controversy.
“(Pennell) and I clashed oars. It was pretty early in the race, not even 250 metres in,” said McCallum, a former basketball player who is hoping to pursue rowing as a university athlete. “Once we came out of it I got a lead and just built on it.”
Pennell finished second.
This weekend Elk Lake is host to 200 of Canada’s top rowers, Nov. 9 to 11, for the 2012 RBC National Rowing Championships. Podium finishers will receive a share of a $20,000 purse.