Being a student-athlete can be stressful – balancing homework, training sessions and a social life – but during the COVID-19 pandemic, six young rowers in Greater Victoria found solace in the structure and community their sport provided.
In March 2020, the Victoria City Rowing Club (VCRC) cancelled in-person training. Boats were stowed away, regattas were cancelled, rowers went home and Elk Lake sat glassy.
It wasn’t long before the coaches changed gears and got their athletes working out at home and taking part in virtual practices. It’s been a difficult year full of hurdles, new programming and “rethinking things that we’ve always done,” said Katie Steenman, director of VCRC junior rowing.
By the summer, rowers returned to the boathouse but rowing machines and equipment were moved outside and spaced out. The athletes were also allowed back on the water but only in singles boats which Willow Tzonev, 13, said has been kind of sad. She doesn’t mind rowing solo on occasion but is looking forward to getting out in the crew boats.
While Quinn Parfitt, 16, misses rowing with her teammates, practicing alone gave her a chance to refine her skills. Though she does miss the sense of security a crew provides when the weather is bad.
Tzonev has been rowing for two years but hasn’t attended many regattas yet because novice rowers typically don’t compete. By the time she reached the junior level, the pandemic was well-established. Her 13-year-old teammates Stella Graham and Tegan Zecher were in the same boat and feel they have yet to take part in the full rowing experience.
Rowing, even while social distancing and attending adapted practices, was one of the only things that was consistent throughout the pandemic and helped Grade 10 student Eryn Whale, 15, stay sane. Balancing the increased homework with a rigorous training schedule was tough, but the structure helped her manage stress.
Hui-Lin Shan, 17, is in Grade 11 so grades have weighed heavy on her mind but rowing practices provided a temporary escape.
The upside to the unique year was that a focus on training has allowed the rowers to fall in love with the process, said Coach Griffin Thomas. Even the youngest athletes mastered skills they normally wouldn’t have time to work on.
Staying connected – through a group text chain and eating lots of junk food (mostly Oreos) together after tough practices – helped the six junior rowers remain motivated. They also took part in a Rowing Canada Aviron challenge which asked teams to row the distance between the national training centre on Vancouver Island and the site of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on rowing machines. The VCRC junior team completed more than 2,250 metres and nabbed first place – winning the club a new indoor rowing machine.
Rowing is difficult and requires a lot of determination, Shan said, but the community is a great support system. They’ve shared in the highs and lows – from the joy of regattas to the “rowing pain” after a strenuous practice.
Anyone interested in trying out rowing or looking to contribute to the club’s purchase of a replacement 8+ boats can visit vcrc.bc.ca.
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