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  • Caylie Gnyra

Rowing Novice Tryouts

Learn-to-Row coach Derek Collins, veteran college rowers, and Lakeland Rustlers rowing head coach Peter Walsh guide novice college rowers through their first time on the water. Photo Caylie Gnyra

Lakeland College’s Rustlers rowing team held its novice tryouts at the Vermilion Provincial Park’s boat launch on Wednesday, September 6 and Thursday, September 7, with an information meeting and dryland training on the rowing machines at the Rec Centre the Tuesday prior. Over the course of the week, ten new students came to try out the sport for the first time.

Learn-to-Row coach Derek Collins and members of the varsity crew assisted head coach Peter Walsh in familiarizing the new students with the proper techniques for lifting, carrying, manoeuvring, and placing the 4-person shell (boat) in the water; handling the boat and equipment on and off the water and mastering the actual parts of the stroke to make the boat move. 

By the end of the final session of the week, the anxieties and frustrations that typically come with first getting into the sport had eased into confidence and enjoyment. “They had a fabulous row and great conditions, rowing all four together without any pauses,” Walsh says.

Not everyone who tries rowing will find it a good fit. The early morning (6 a.m.!) practice times in a cold, dark, and wet environment, coupled with the frustration of not only coordinating an extension of one’s own body but then adding the challenge of doing so in perfect timing with others, can often feel like more effort than the sport is worth. But for those with any sort of inclination towards the water or the outdoors, rowing is nothing short of magical.

Walsh’s own words for it are more subdued—“Rowing’s special, that’s all”—but the awe he experiences is palpable as he highlights moments from over two and a half decades he has devoted to rowing in this community. For some, the appeal is in the speed: rowing is the fastest humans can move on water self-propelled. “There’s nothing like the feel of a boat that is moving well,” he insists. Still, the connection with others in the boat is central to success, “There really isn’t another sport where synchronicity is so critical, and there are so many aspects in the stroke where you can lose synchronicity,” says Walsh. The sport also connects rowers to their environment: Walsh describes seeing deer, bears, foxes, eagles, pelicans, and other birds from the water. With the early morning practices, the varsity rowers intersect with a small window of time each autumn where the crew begins practice under the full moon and finishes with the sunrise—an encounter with the environment that, for some, approaches a mystical experience.

Walsh highlights the distinction between the college crew and the community club: while all rowers in Vermilion are part of the Lakeland Rowing Club and use the same boathouse, shells, and oars, community members train, compete, and recreationally row during the summer but do not participate in the autumn post-secondary regattas.

Novice college rowers who decide to stick with the Rustlers crew will train at least three times each week for the duration of the fast and furious fall season. They will race in regattas in Calgary and Leduc later this month, but will still be training when the varsity crew races the Head of the Saskatchewan in Saskatoon on September 16.

Lakeland College students interested in rowing this season can check out the Lakeland Rowing Club’s Facebook page or contact Walsh directly at or 780-581-5789—but be sure to do so by September 15, as the varsity season ends within mere weeks of starting.

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