People and Places

The Ottawa Rowing Club leaves the competition in its wake

You don’t row, row, row your boat gently down this “stream.” In fact, the Ottawa River is a point of pride for the Ottawa Rowing Club, founded in 1867.

“It offers no mental or physical break,” says 26-year-old rower Andrew Todd, a Rio 2016 Paralympics hopeful. (Decisions won’t be made until closer to the Games.)  “It teaches you to push your limits … the river is pretty much endless.” Todd learned to “battle paddle” as a member of the ORC, the nation’s oldest rowing club, located just east of the Alexandra Bridge.

Todd is one of 10 current national-team rowers to wet their paddles as members of the local club. Another is two-time World Championship silver medallist Cristy Nurse, who will compete in the women’s eight boat in Rio. Nurse, 29, partially credits her success to the club’s elite coaches and “long aerobic” stints on the river. “They graduate a lot of strong junior rowers into Canada’s national programs.”

Nurse recalls the magic of floating under the lights of Parliament at dawn. Senior squads typically start practice at 5:30 a.m. amid calm waters and a mostly sleeping capital city. In contrast, Todd evokes the “cold, miserable” turbulent conditions of training in late fall.

The senior men’s lead coach, Ed Fournier, has trained local oarsmen for 10 years and watched many charges stroke their way onto the national team.

The river teaches humility and endurance. “When others are ready to turn back, our guys are just starting to go,” says Fournier. Other clubs, including Canada’s national teams (based in London, Ont., and Victoria, B.C.), train on shorter, smaller bodies of water — regularly stopping and spinning in practice. Meanwhile, Fournier’s charges wake up to 20- to 24-kilometre round trips around Upper Duck Island.

Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are from Aug. 5 to 21; Paralympic Games are from Sept. 7 to 18. Rowing is traditionally held in the first week of the games.