By Kristy Koehler, March 19 2019 —
Rowing is picking up steam at the University of Calgary. Mark Laidlaw, head coach of Dinos rowing since 2014, says that the team’s recent success, coupled with the number of athletes currently competing, has been great for the profile of the sport.
“It’s slowly gaining attention,” he said. “Five years ago there was a dozen or so athletes. It was a really small team — there wasn’t much of a presence. Now with 70 [athletes] it’s getting harder and harder to ignore that there’s a team. I still hear quite a lot of ‘I didn’t even realize there was rowing in Calgary.’ We’re working on it.
“Historically, if we go back 20 years [rowing] certainly hasn’t been a big sport at the U of C and the results would reflect that,” he continued. “But, in the last five years it’s progressively gotten better and better.”
On March 9, the Dinos competed at the Alberta Indoor Rowing Championships in Blackfalds, Alberta. The tournament isn’t just for university clubs — rowing clubs from all over the province are eligible to compete.
“We won more medals than any other club in Alberta,” Laidlaw said. “Last year we tied for the most medals. This is the first time that we’ve actually outright won the most. Twenty-three athletes won medals.”
The Dinos are headed to California from April 6–7 for the San Diego Crew Classic. The tournament is the main competition for the winter and spring. Last year, the Dinos took part for the first time ever and came home with a gold medal. This year, they’re sending 24 athletes and Laidlaw’s goal is to come home with two golds.
Laidlaw is thrilled that people are starting to notice the rowing team. The number of athletes trying out for the team has also increased and the Dinos are now in a position to be more selective about who to keep and who to cut. For those looking to get into rowing, the team recruits twice a year.
“We offer a week or so of ‘learn-to-row’ for people to get accustomed to the skill and give it a shot, and then we put them through some fitness testing and make our decision,” said Laidlaw.
He says the decision to keep or cut people from the team isn’t always based on who is the fittest and strongest. Year of study and how long an athlete will be able to play for the team also plays a role. Of course, cardio and power are assets that help athletes secure a place on the roster.
“Cardio is definitely a good thing,” he said. “Power is really important. We get people with all kinds of fitness levels and backgrounds. We try not to make our test based too much on whether they are fit right now but whether they show that they can be fit and strong.”
Laidlaw says the team gets potential athletes from aerobic-heavy sports like cross-country skiing but also from strength-based sports where they have very little aerobic capacity.
“I’d love for everyone to understand the accessibility of our team,” he says. “The majority of our athletes have never rowed before. People looking for either a different sport or maybe a first sport — rowing is a really accessible way to give yourself competitive experience.
“Across the board rowing is generally a late-entry sport,” he continued. “There’s very few high schools that offer it. If you look Canada-wide most people start rowing in university. It’s a little bit of a leveller playing field than some other sports.”
Fans can keep up with Dinos rowing online at godinos.com/row.