By Martin Cleary
A return to consistent water training after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic was a major reason the Ottawa Rowing Club had “a fantastic showing” at the recent 138th Royal Canadian Henley rowing regatta in St. Catharines.
Canada’s oldest rowing club was a regular top-three finisher in the unique national open regatta that only honours the winning rower or crew boat with a medal.
The Ottawa Rowing Club produced five Canadian race champions as well as three second-place finishes and six third-place results.
Senior women’s lightweight rower Alyssa Pastic and senior men’s flyweight Brendan Edge were instrumental in Ottawa’s successful return to Henley as triple and double gold medallists respectively.
“The ORC had a fantastic showing at the Royal Canadian Henley … for a number of reasons – part of which was a return to water after COVID,” ORC head coach Zak Lewis wrote in an email interview.
“We were fortunate enough because of our size that we had the member support and personnel to figure out strategies to get individuals and crews back on the water safely post-COVID. The extra water time meant minimized lag in training and continued interest from our pool of athletes.”
Lewis added the club also had a strong pool of senior, university novices and newcomers who have trained hard over the past eight to 10 months.
“Our senior programs had a really strong showing because none of our athletes chose to represent their country/province this summer,” he added. “We often get a number of athletes plucked from our talent pool to compete at a higher level of competition and it can make a considerable difference, when we are putting together crews to race at the club level.”
The women’s senior lightweight program certainly was impressive, recording first-place results in the pair, four and quad crew-boat finals.
Pastic and Meghan Jolley won the 2,000-metre pair gold medal in eight minutes, 27.26 seconds for an almost 11-second victory.
They also formed half of the victorious quad boat – Jolley, Isabelle Ng, Anne-Andrée Sirois and Pastic – which defeated the Argonaut crew by 2.45 seconds with a time of 5:41.1.
Pastic, Brigitte Gaudert, Sirois and Ng captured the four-boat, four final in 6:57.37.
Seven of the club’s top-14 results came from the senior women’s lightweight program, including a second-place finish in the eight.
“The experience, temperament and dedication of these women was truly incredible,” continued Lewis, who also served as their coach.
The senior women’s lightweight quad was the key race at Henley for Pastic, who had won four gold medals – three lightweight women’s eight and one lightweight women’s four – at previous national championships.
“The senior lightweight quad was the last race of our Henley,” Pastic, 30, said during a lunch break in her PhD studies in molecular biology at the University of Ottawa.
“We did the race one hour after the eight. We were tired after the eight. We trained the quad all summer and it was our priority. It was the one we wanted the most.”
In between the eight and the quad, Jolley, Ng, Sirois and Pastic rested with plenty of water and ice during the extremely hot weekend at Martindale Pond.
“It required a lot of diligence and ice to cool down,” she added. “The weather was ridiculously hot. We needed lots of water and electrolytes. Recovery was the key.”
Pastic praised the Ottawa coaches for properly preparing the senior women’s lightweight crew rowers that led to their Henley success.
“Definitely, I don’t give myself much credit,” Pastic said. “Our coaching staff was incredible. Four or five coaches worked full summer with us and we got different perspectives.
“There were 30 to 40 women and when you see them work so hard, it inspires you.”
The pandemic cancelled the Henley for the past two summers, which made this year’s championships a wide open affair as the rowers hadn’t seen each other since 2019.
“We honestly weren’t quite sure (what to expect) because we haven’t gone to Henley the last few years, especially against the Americans,” Pastic continued.
“Not being sure how we would stack up was the best way because we had no pressure and expectations on ourselves. It was all hard work and supporting each other. We wanted it, but we weren’t sure about it.”
Brendan Edge had raced in several previous Henley regattas, but had never experienced victory until this year.
The Carleton University international studies masters student won the senior men’s 64-kilogram single and was part of the winning senior men’s 64-kilogram coxed four with Mackenzie Vaughan-Graham, Mikhaeil Ibrahim-Qayyum, Ben Grenier and coxswain Caitlin McMann.
Edge won the singles race by 0.67 seconds over James Murrer of Monmouth Juniors in 7:09.81.
“The final was a real fight. For the first half, I wasn’t sure I’d do it, but then I saw myself gaining on the Kingston and Monmouth rowers. I said: ‘OK, I can do this.’
“There were some tight races at Henley and those are the best races. It could have been anybody (winning the race). I felt great to come out on top. It would have been a great race regardless.”
The senior men’s 64-kilogram coxed four was a two-boat showdown between Ottawa and Notre Dame. The Ottawa crew finished in 7:18.36, while Notre Dame was second in 7:20.67.
“I trained as hard as I could,” said Edge, 29, who also has a full-time job on Parliament Hill as the legislative assistant to Yukon MP Brendan Hanley. “It takes a long time to really learn how to be good at rowing. It’s a late-entry sport.
“It takes time, practice, dedication, sacrifice and commitment to win a medal. I’ve always pushed myself beyond my borders. It’s a sport of balance. I try to strike the right balance between what I do on and off the water.
“I have really grown since moving to Ottawa and finishing my undergrad at Trent University (Canadian studies). My approach to the sport and my move to Ottawa gave me new life and love for the sport.”
IMAN SHAHEEN WINS 3 OF 5 MATCHES AT JUNIOR WORLDS
After losing her first-round match in straight games, Ottawa’s Iman Shaheen rebounded to win three of her next four challenges to finish in 69th place at the world junior women’s squash championships in Nancy, France.
Shaheen ended her world junior debut, which had a women’s singles draw of 128 players, with a comfortable 11-2, 11-3, 11-5 win over Ireland’s Hannah Mcgugan.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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