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Have you heard about the Dawson Rowing Team?

A brutally honest ‘morning in the life’ of a Dawson rower

Photo by Jillian Loth

By Romy Shoam

If you didn’t know about Dawson’s rowing team, you definitely did as of the first week of school, when we were stationed for what seemed like an eternity in the lower atrium, recruiting students for the fall season. Many of you were thrown off by the obscurity of the sport; questions regarding the time and the location of our training were common - 6 AM at the Olympic Basin, a short walk from the Parc Jean Drapeau stop at the end of the yellow line. Think Osheaga area, but instead, we go a little further, to an island called Île Sainte-Hélène, which has a gym, some vending machines, and a 2km long outdoor pool (but trust me, you don’t really want to swim in it, especially when the temperature gets into the low teens).

​So, what actually goes on at these practices? Well, the first step, once you arrive, is to get some shelter from the cold in Hangar 9 - a cozy little garage-type space, home to Dawson Rowing and the Montreal Rowing Club (MRC). We huddle around the desk, where Joe Rochon, head coach for Dawson and MRC, sits, a tall glass of hot coffee in hand. You have to listen to him closely, as his morning announcement will be the most important decision you will hear all day - what boat you’ll row that morning. Suspense builds as he names those around you; a novice rower will usually be put in an eight - a boat that seats eight people, as its name suggests - each with one long oar, known as a sweeping oar. Seniors are probably in smaller boats, like a quad (which seats four people), a double (two), or a single (one - you’re all alone). The latter boats are for sculling, meaning you have two smaller oars.

​Your task now is to take the oars from their racks to the docks on the water, from which you launch the boats off of. You then return to the hangars, and head to where your boat is kept. If you’re in an eight, you’re lucky - you’ve got your own mini-coach, right there in the boat with you, called a coxswain. Their job is to make calls during training and races regarding the crew’s technique and direction to keep them on track and to gain some speed. Once your boat is in the water and your oars are locked in, the cox will direct you to sit down in the boat.

"Yes, it’s grueling, and it’s so early, but it’s worth it to be on the water, and to watch the sunrise every morning."

​Finally, you’ve reached the workout stage. You start rowing, and you’ll likely see Joe, Max, and David, the other two coaches, for the women’s and men’s novices, respectively, biking alongside the water, megaphone in hand, instructing the crews on how to improve their technique. One of Max’s favourites is “legs, back, arms, arms, back, legs,” reminding the rowers of the sequence of the stroke. While this may seem simple enough, it’s really quite essential - the focus is placed on the basic sequence, which, when mastered and synchronized, can significantly increase the pace of the boat. Once the crew settles into a rhythm, the repetition of the movement is almost hypnotizing. It allows your mind to concentrate on nothing but what you’re doing in that moment, and you start to hear Max’s voice in your head, almost like a chant, over and over again. It’s actually really peaceful.

After rowing some 8, 12, 16, or 20km (with some additional drills thrown in), you’re back at the dock. You exit the boat, remove the oars, and carry the boat back to the entrance of the hangars. After gently placing it onto a pair of stretchers, half of the crew washes the boat while the other half put the oars away. You return the boat to its spot, and go back to hangar 9 for some stretching.

If this regimen seems intense, that’s because it is. You get the chance to row alongside some really skilled rowers, who compete at the provincial and national level. Yes, it’s grueling, and it’s so early, but it’s worth it to be on the water, and to watch the sunrise every morning. It’s a team and an individual sport - you have to keep up your technique and power, because your crewmates are relying on you, and vice versa. The product of this is a community of people going through an experience similar to yours, which motivates you, be that at practice, or elsewhere.

Plus, you get some cool merch.

Contact us! We’re always looking for new people interested in joining!


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