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Photo courtesy University of Calgary rowing

U of C rowing team becoming competitive powerhouse

By Christie Melhorn, July 10 2017 — 

In the last three years, the University of Calgary rowing team has sharpened its competitive edge. The team placed in the top five for the first time at the 2016 Canadian University Rowing Championships, finishing fourth in the women’s eight. They also secured six gold medals at the 2017 Alberta Outdoor Indoor Rowing Championships. This August, Dinos Hannah Kennedy, Claire Hinse and Claudia Reisinger will compete with the Alberta provincial team at the 2017 Canada Summer Games.

When the club was established in the late ‘90s, it had both a competitive and recreational stream. Head coach Mark Laidlaw says this created a conflicted identity that prevented the team from reaching their potential.

“The team’s culture has been evolving since I came,” Laidlaw said. “The team wasn’t very competitive when I first started and I think that’s because they hadn’t decided what they wanted to be. For a couple of reasons, I took out the recreational team. I didn’t think we had enough resources to support it and it wasn’t fair to those who wanted to row competitively.”

Laidlaw joined the Dinos in 2014 and is an accomplished rower himself, having competed internationally with Canada. He is also the current coach of the Alberta provincial team. Laidlaw says creating a competitive team demanded a shift in mindset and boost in confidence.

“A challenge that I was presented with this team was a lack of a history,” Laidlaw says. “U of C does not historically have a competitive rowing team. It’s something reletively new and there are schools with an established program and history of success. There was almost a learned helplessness. But there is no reason that U of C can’t have a successful rowing team,” Laidlaw said.  

To facilitate the team’s development, Laidlaw tries to embrace progressive improvements.

“Our culture is so focused on immediate results,” Laidlaw said. “A bad result doesn’t mean you’re totally off track. Yes, it was a bad day, but today but you may be better than a year ago. I don’t care if you’re the best right now,” Laidlaw said. “And if something good happens, take the time to celebrate it.”

Laidlaw says the team’s growth also depends on dedication and work ethic.

“Something that is bred from rowing more than other sports is a sense of accountability,” he said. “If you’re not showing up for training, the team will lose trust or become resentful. Personal accountability improves the team’s accountability. In the workplace, if I perceive that someone else isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, what I’ve learned from my athletic foundation comes up.”

Laidlaw says rowing also teaches that success does not always mean winning. He has found success in watching his athletes grow as both rowers and individuals.

“Doing your best, even if it’s not a victory in the sense of results, is a success,” Laidlaw said. “One girl on our team was not very strong and was very quiet. She’s worked extremely hard and put herself as one of our top lightweights. Towards the end of the year, she put herself forward and made a speech to the team about wanting to have an executive position on the team. It’s pretty awesome.”

With 70 registered members, the rowing team is nearing maximum capacity. However, Laidlaw says anyone interested in trying out is welcome to contact him. More details about try-out dates will be announced in August.

Click here for more information about the rowing team.

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