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Quality Inn - Sudbury
Mike Hennessy, Lawyer
Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017
Team Ontario trains in Sudbury before the Games
2017-08-01
by Randy Pascal

Confidence was not lacking as the Ontario rowing team prepared for the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg with a final week of training in Sudbury, enjoying the Northern Water Sports Centre, Ramsey Lake and the hospitality of Laurentian University and provincial team coach Amanda Schweinbenz.

“I think, honestly, looking at our team, a good goal for the men’s team would be to win every single event, sweeping the whole Games,” said third year Carleton Raven Hunter Amesbury. The prediction is even bolder that that of Laurentian Voyageur standout Hayley Chase, who suggested a few weeks back that capturing the “flag”, emblematic of the overall aggregate team championship, by province, was a most worthwhile Games' goal.

It’s not as though the upbeatness within the Ontario camp is without foundation. Long viewed as a key provider of national team and Olympic talent, the largest province in the country once again boasts an impressive array of young men and women, each with their own unique port of entry into a sport which typically is not even in the mix until an athlete reaches high school.

With a primary background in both hockey and rugby, Amesbury made his initial foray to the rowing scene in grade 10, partially based on fitting the physical template, and partially owing to the motivation of having a cousin who competed with Team Canada at international events and such.

It would take a couple of years before the hidden rowing skill set really began to appear. “In grade 12, my coach talked to my pairs partner (Luke Gadsdon) and I,” recalled Amesbury. “She said we had a lot of good potential, and if we really put the time into it, we could make it to the next level. We’ve definitely come a long way since grade 12, but that was the year where I figured I should really put a lot of effort and put the time into becoming a better rower.”

Travelling every step of this journey with his partner on the water, Gadsdon will also share the Games experience with an even closer connection, with younger sister Lauren also named to the Ontario team that will compete in Kenora, the closest appropriate rowing venue within reasonable proximity of Winnipeg.

“We’re pretty close, we’ve done the same sports all throughout our lives,” stated Lauren, two years younger than older brother Luke. “It makes it a bit more special, but it’s also kind of normal for me to have my brother around. I think it’s certainly more special for our family to have both of us getting to this level and competing together.”

One of a handful of Ontario team members who call the Leander Rowing Club in Burlington home, Gadsdon was an average multi-sport athlete before rowing would draw out her more competitive side – but not before getting a handle on some of the core basics, first and foremost.

“The big thing for me was port and starboard, it took me a while to figure out which one is which,” stated the incoming freshman of the Western Mustangs rowing team. Initially, sweeping (single oar rowing – as opposed to sculling = two oars) was really hard for me, because it’s very side oriented and sections of the boat oriented.”

Ethan McAlpine, as an example, will occupy seat 3C as a member of the men’s eight, diversifying his contribution to Team Ontario by also competing as a member of the men’s quad team, a sculling boat. “I’m in 3C, and typically you hide the athlete with the least technical ability in 3C,” the 19 year old explained modestly.

“I’ve gotten better, and I’ve gotten stronger, but typically you’re engine room is from six to 3C. These guys are just going to hammer it down the course. Your stroke pair are going to set the rhythm, and your bow pair is going to set the boat up for everybody, keeping it level.”

Recruited by and heading to Princeton University in New Jersey come September, McAlpine will forever be grateful for the perseverance he possessed in seeing one of his high school goal’s through to the end. “I wanted to try every sport (in high school), to be honest, and rowing was the last sport on the list,” he said.

“People usually don’t like the ergometer, but I actually enjoyed rowing on it when I started. I liked the endurance aspect. I would play sports like basketball and volleyball and I could actually run back and forth and never slow down. On the ergometer, I felt like I could keep cranking out the power and use that to my advantage.”

“I’m not particularly strong or heavy, so I have more trouble with sprints over shorter distances, but I can use my aerobic capacity to really set a fast pace over an entire race, rather than just relying on strength at the end,” McAlpine continued.

Interestingly enough, there appeared to be very little consensus, within the group, as to whether rowing actually favours a specialization of athletes towards either sculling or sweeping, with McAlpine representing the middle ground where most seemed to migrate towards.

“I grew fond of sweeping only because it’s a “think less, pull harder” kind of boat, but I like the strategy of the quad, because things are happening faster than a double or a single, but there’s still that aspect of working with three other guys,” said McAlpine.

Where uniformity does exist is perhaps moreso in the standard physical makeup of the typical rower, blessed with better than average height, and hopefully longer arms and longer legs. All of which explains the focus of the training for the local hope that is Hayley Chase, the Alma Ontario native and student at L.U. who now calls Sudbury home year round in order to facilitate her rowing workouts.

“I’ve always had good cardio, but we’ve worked on my strength so much, and that’s helped the most,” she said. “We do a lot of leg stuff, because that’s where the majority of your power is coming from. When you start, what actually moves the boat is your legs. It’s not until your legs are almost completely done moving the boat that your arms actually fall in.”

And if all goes well, that combination of strength and power will help Team Ontario prevail, and goal for which one and all aboard absolutely share the same vision.

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