By Martin Cleary
When members of the Hembruff family wanted to experience a summer sport, they pulled together to go in the same direction.
There was no either oar about it as rowing would get them moving forward, while travelling backwards.
“Our whole family rowed at one point. My brothers rowed in high school, one brother is on the national team and my parents rowed in university,” a proud Maia Hembruff, 17, said in a recent phone interview.
“I was encouraged to try, when I was in Grade 8. I tried out at our school (Elmwood) and I’ve also been with the Ottawa Rowing Club the past four years.”
Hembruff tried it, liked it and has been rewarded for her achievements. A double medallist for Canada at the 2022 CanAmMex regatta, she is preparing to return to the United States by moving to Kingston, Rhode Island, which is in the Providence area, to attend the University of Rhode Island on a full athletic scholarship and compete for the Rams women’s rowing team.
“Rowing’s important,” said Hembruff, who moved to Ottawa with her family from Washington, D.C., five years ago.
“I was encouraged to try a lot of sports and I tried rowing late in Grade 8. My brothers were into it. We’re a big family for sports, along with hockey. I like the community of rowing and the dedicated athletes. It’s a unique sport, a very strong team sport. It requires strength, endurance, patience and relaxation.
“You must work with the crew. There’s a unique team environment to be in sync.”
When she lived in Washington, she had three rowing role models – brothers Aidan, Ryley, who trained and competed for three years, and Fionn, who logged five years on the water.
Aidan was on Rowing Canada’s NextGen team in 2022 and had some impressive international and domestic results last season. At the Canada Summer Games, he was part of Ontario’s gold-medal crews in the men’s four and eight with coxswain. At the world U23 championships, the Western University student helped Canada to a ninth-place finish in the men’s eight with coxswain.
Maia entered the 2023 season having represented Canada at the CanAmMex regatta in London, ON., last season and winning silver medals in the women’s four and eight with coxswain. She also raced in the 138th Royal Canadian Henley regatta and the Head of the Charles.
At the Henley, she had four races and helped the Ottawa Rowing Club place sixth in the women’s eight dash final.
During the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association championships in St. Catharines, Hembruff was in the Elmwood quad boat, which won the bronze medal. She also was seventh in the pair.
Elmwood is coached by teacher Derek O’Farrell, a 2012 Canadian Olympic rower and a three-time world senior championship medallist. Hembruff also received experienced coaching in the Ottawa Rowing Club’s women’s junior program from Cliff Brimmell and 1996 Canadian Olympic silver medallist (women’s eight) Anna Van der Kamp.
An honour-roll and merit-pin recipient at Elmwood, Hembruff started looking for academic and athletic scholarship opportunities in the U.S. about a year ago. She visited the University of Rhode Island and Temple University and had between 12 and 15 American universities contact her.
“I started late,” she said. “I decided to pursue rowing more in the U.S. in the summer of Grade 11. I was inspired by how hard-working everyone was and the level of competition.
“The environment and location (of the University of Rhode Island) made it feel immediately that this is where I wanted to go. The team was fantastic and it was a great visit.”
The University of Rhode Island is considered “a major research university defined by innovation and big thinking.” The women’s rowing team placed second at the 2023 Atlantic 10 Conference championships and missed qualifying for the NCAA Division 1 championships by one place.
When asked about her all-inclusive scholarship, Hembruff said: “I’m a very lucky girl.”
Hembruff will have two other Canadians on the Rhode Island Rams’ roster for 2023-24 – Bethany Nordstrom, a Victoria, B.C., resident who will enter her sophomore year, and freshman Eryn Wale of Victoria. Wale and Hembruff were 2022 CanAmMex teammates.
“I’m really grateful, especially for the support of all my coaches, parents and school,” Hembruff said about how her rowing and academic careers have unfolded. “It’s incredible. I’m lucky to go to the U.S. and have that level of competition.”
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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