HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Cliff Brimmell didn’t see it coming until the last split moment.
Then the long-time Ottawa Rowing Club coach and former athlete was hit with one of the biggest shocks of his life.
As former women’s junior rowing captain Mackenzie Mihorean read her speech about a specific award winner during the club’s Royal Canadian Henley send-off party, she would regularly look at Brimmell — her former coach.
Just as she was about to conclude her talk, Brimmell clued in that she was talking about him.
Brimmell was overwhelmed with the notion that the club that has been part of his life on and off for the past 50 years would want to honor him by christening a new boat with his name on the side.
“It was a big shock,” Brimmell recalled in a telephone interview this week. “Mackenzie was taking twists and turns, but she nailed it. I was really wondering why is she spending so much time looking my way? I clued in one second before she made her announcement.”
“I started rowing with the club when I was 15-16 years old and now that’s the age group I’m coaching with, the junior women. I couldn’t be happier about it. There’s nothing but fun and great times coaching all those kids over the years.”
Brimmell, 66, was one of four Ottawa Rowing Club individuals along with one Volunteer Coach group who were celebrated by having their names placed on the bow of a boat.
The club christened more boats than normal at its annual Henley send-off party this year. It used the occasion to catch up and pay tribute to individuals who couldn’t be honoured in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here who the Ottawa Rowing Club named boats after:
—Melanie Bryce has been a selfless contributor to the Ottawa rowing community as an umpire, coach and volunteer. She was the 2016 RowOntario female umpire of the year and will be the chief umpire at the 2022 Canadian rowing championships Nov. 10-12 in British Columbia;
—Kate Gorsline has had numerous experiences as a coach and RowOntario coach developer, including the 2011 and 2012 CanAmMex championships, and the 2013 Canada Summer Games. Since 2006, she has been named the club’s coach of the year twice and has coached rowers at the junior, U23, senior and para levels. She also has coached the University of Ottawa men’s varsity team since 2013;
—Josh King, who accomplished the rare feat winning the men’s senior lightweight singles, men’s senior heavyweight singles and championship singles final all in one year at the 2017 Henley regatta, was an alternate on the 2021 Canadian Olympic team. A national team member, he competed at the 2019 Pan Am Games and the 2016 world championships;
—Volunteer coaches who have devoted a minimum of one season to the club will have their names on an eight boat;
—Cliff Brimmell started coaching at the club 20 years ago, when his daughter Blair showed interest in the sport. A club press release said he “is the definition of a coach that goes above and beyond expectations.”
Two hours before the boats were christened with champagne, Brimmell was asked if he could say a few words about former Ottawa Rowing Club coach Fred Toop, who will have his name on the volunteer coach boat.
Toop, who coached Brimmell as a young rower, lives in the Ottawa region, but the club was unable to contact him for the ceremony.
“I was one of the guys pushing to have a boat named after Fred,” Brimmell added.
The fall rowing season has recently started and Brimmell expects to have about 25 athletes in his women’s junior program, which has produced rowers like Madeleine Lauriault and Riley Richardson, who have represented Canada at the 2021 and 2022 world championships respectively.
“There was no one more surprised in the crowd than me to have my name on a boat. Don’t you have to be dead for that? Maybe this is a sign to wrap it up,” he jested.
“I’m honoured. I’ve never felt, honestly, that I deserve something like this. We’re all volunteers. We all do this for the same reason _ we love the sport and they are terrific young people and we want to keep them going at it.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 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 “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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