The GISS rowing team had a successful weekend at St. Catharines, Ont., where they competed in the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association national regatta from May 31 to June 2.
The team sent 13 scullers to the competition. Three boats qualified for semi-finals, and one advanced to the finals. The senior women’s single, junior women’s double and senior women’s quad boats made it to semis, and the senior women’s quad advanced to the finals. It was the first time a boat from Salt Spring Island advanced to the finals at national championships. Team members Bonnie Reynolds, Zoey Johnson, Linnea Barrett and Bronte Mah came in fifth place in their final race, missing fourth by only two seconds.
“What was incredible about this group is the final race was their sixth time in a boat together, showing the powerhouse that our Salt Spring Island rowers really are,” said coach Stacy Mitchell.
Reynolds and Johnson were also in the other boats competing in the semi-finals. Reynolds competed in the women’s single, coming fourth in her semi. Johnson was in the women’s double with Cheyenne Sawchuck. They placed fifth in their semi-final race.
Many of the rowers had not been to the competition before, and being able to row against other top athletes in the country further committed them to the sport. Because they were exposed to a higher level of competition, they pushed themselves harder than they had before and were able to see the results of that.
“It was probably the most intense rowing experience I’ve ever had. I almost blacked out at the end,” Reynolds said about her singles race. “I really wanted to put everything I possibly could into it. I didn’t see not making semi-finals as an option.”
“We just wanted to race as hard as we possibly could,” said Johnson. “When we found out that we made the semis it was mind blowing that we were in the top 16 in Canada. That’s insane.”
Johnson, a Grade 9 student, plans to keep rowing through high school and hopes to row at the university level some day. Reynolds graduates this year and has been recruited by the rowing team at Brock University in St. Catharines.
“For me that means I’ll be rowing at least six days per week with 5 a.m. rows for possibly the next four years,” Reynolds said. “That’s a major transformation in terms of the future I saw within the sport.”
“I feel like I have a new level of commitment to actually feel the pain within the sport. I’m more willing to push myself and I can see the results,” she added.
Both Johnson and Reynolds were in the women’s quad boat that made the finals. Their first race was very strong and saw them come in second place after battling in the last quarter of the race for the position.
“We had power from the beginning, all the way through the end. We crossed the finish line and were neck and neck with one of the other boats. We passed in the last 500 metres,” Johnson said.
The students needed to raise money to get to St. Catharines and would like to thank the community for their support.
The rowing team is now preparing for the Salt Spring Island Race on the Rock regatta, which will be held on Saturday, June 23 on Long Harbour. More than 100 athletes are expected to attend. Racing will begin with longer distances at 10 a.m., and sprints for qualifiers should start at about 1:30 p.m.