Early on Friday morning, the University of Alberta Rowing Team piled onto a coach bus for the long drive out to Burnaby, BC, host of the 2016 Western Canadian University Rowing Championships. Westerns is the first chance for many of the athletes to test themselves against the rowing powerhouses of the west coast and is the final warm-up before the prestigious Canadian University Rowing Championships to take place in Welland, Ontario. An air of excitement and nerves filled the bus as the athletes prepared themselves to take on the best of the best from UBC, UVic, SFU, URegina, Lakeland, U of C, and Saskatoon.

Though the bus and the trailer arrived Friday night, the regatta itself didn’t start until Sunday, leaving a whole day for the team to explore the city and get themselves into the zone. After a casual sleep in Saturday morning, the team settled into their breakfasts and were met by some friendly folk from Ontario. Mary and Bob were quick to regale us with tales of their grandchildren and invite us to stay at their place anytime they wanted. Mary was keen to wish us luck and handed out a single “peace twig” to each and every member of the team. Novice rower Cody Lich is certain that his peace twig played a significant role in his boat’s success.


Rain didn’t dampen the team’s spirits on their pre-race hike at Lynn Canyon Park

Leaving breakfast full of food and one twig richer, the team made the trip over to Lynn Canyon Park for a short hike to loosen up the legs. Rainy weather did not discourage anyone from enjoying some beautiful scenery. Fledgling director Connor Stephens attempted to film the second part in his series Rowers in the Mist, but was rudely interrupted by fellow lightweights Ben Altman and Bryce Kneller doing their best Tarzan impressions, swinging wildly from tree to tree. Mitchell Reif donned his tactical turtleneck (aka tactleneck) to explore some of the more dangerous parts of the trail. Far off cries of “LANAAAA” could be heard echoing throughout the forest. After the hike, the team went for dinner at Earls, loaded up on pasta and garlic bread, and then hit their beds early to be ready for a tough day of racing.


Mitchell Reif flying right into the danger zone

Sunday morning started before the sun was even up. After some last good wishes from Mary and Bob, the bus made its way to the course at Burnaby Lake. First up in the batting order were the lightweight women’s double of Georgie Hyland and Sahara Duffett and the men’s pair of Audla Buchan and Michael Blair. Due to the number of entries in their events, the two boats had to race a time trial to qualify for their respective finals. All fours athletes came out guns blazing, and both boats qualified for their finals later in the afternoon.

The first U of A rower to race for medals was Bryce Kneller in the lightweight men’s single. Bryce faced down some stiff competition, both the UVic and UBC rowers had a combined two decades more experience than him. As expected, the two west coast athletes pulled out ahead, but Bryce put some distance into the rest of the field. He soon found himself alone in a large gap in the middle of the race. Thankfully, he had brought along his good friend Wilson the volleyball to keep him company. Years later, he reemerged into civilization at the finish line, sporting a full length beard. Bryce was satisfied with his result and will look to make an appearance in the A final of the single at CUs in three weeks time.

After a quick break, Bryce was back in action in the lightweight men’s four, accompanied by Connor Stephens, Noah Kryzanowski, Ben Altman, and cox Mioni Armstrong. The boys got confused and thought they had entered the slalom competition, winding their way through the buoys for the entire length of the course. Keep an eye out for Noah’s new book, Buoys in the Boat, documenting the triumphs and tribulations of their Westerns run. Coming soon to a bookstore near you. The race was won by a stacked UBC boat, featuring former ERC rower Mark Bonar.


Taking teamwork to new heights during the trailer load

Next up at the start line was the novice women’s eight of Emma Stephens, Julia Le, Riya, Karen Visscher, Megan Lucas, Brittany Visneskie, Joni Hyland, Mioni Armstrong, and cox Torrin Lemire. It was a hectic race. After a last minute distance change to 1000m, the frantic six-boat final was a wild event, full of crabs and technical difficulties. Brittany tried to appease the rowing gods by sacrificing her tights to the slides, but it was to no avail. After a back and forth race, the girls ended in a close fifth place. Julia was so confused by all the action during the race that when asked to compare her experience to a movie, she replied with “ham.” She didn’t have a concussion. We checked. After much discussion, the girls decided that low-fat turkey was the deli meat that best embodied their race. Interpret that as you will.

Fresh off the back of a stellar time trial, Audla Buchan and Michael Blair lined up for the final in the varsity men’s pair. They fought hard, but were unable to find the same form they had in the time trial. In the debrief, Audla commented “We would have won if it wasn’t for all those other guys.” Mike compared their race to The Da Vinci Code, “because we were flogging ourselves.”

Georgie Hyland and Sahara Duffett lined up for the final of the lightweight women’s double with something to prove, looking to beat their archrivals from Calgary and get themselves into the race with the boats from UBC and UVic. After a blinding start, the girls found themselves in second place in the early stages of the race. Things started to fall apart however, and the girls dropped back into the field coming through the middle. Georgie has begun lobbying the IOC to include 100m sprint rowing in the next Olympics; she is convinced they would dominate that event. Stay tuned as these two bring their explosive speed to Welland in three weeks.


The novice men’s eight push clear of the field as they approach the finish line

In the lightweight men’s double, Ben Altman and Connor Stephens ran into a star-studded boat from UBC consisting of Olympian and national team rower Maxwell Lattimer and his equally skilled brother, Aaron Lattimer. Staying true to their roots, Ben and Connor were most jealous of the duo’s coordinated pink long sleeves. But when they arrived at the start line, the star struck U of A double found some speed of their own and cruised to a solid 3rd-place finish, looking to be on good form as they approach the peak of their season.

Last on the menu for the day was the novice men’s eight, contested by Adam Smith, Cody Lich, Nate Wawrzonek, Mohsin Muhammad, Mitchell Reif, Scott Elgersma, Noah Kryzanowski, and Kyle Wheeler. After a dominating performance at Dino Sprints, the boys came to Burnaby on a mission to establish themselves as the best boat in western Canada. A monster crab by Cody three strokes in was only a momentary delay as they clawed their way clear of the field in the opening 300m. After that, there was no looking back. The boys laid down some serious wattage and flew across the line a full 22 seconds ahead of the field. Nate drew the comparison between their boat and the Inglorious Basterds, saying “It wasn’t pretty, but we got the job done.” A few scalps later, they did indeed get the job done, winning gold in the novice division at a west coast regatta for the first time in recent memory. Westerns caps off the fall season on a high note for the novices, they’ll be back in action come spring.


Best in the west – the novice men’s eight claimed gold and the title of fastest boat in western Canada

Congratulations to all the athletes who competed in Burnaby this year, strong results all around. Coaches Amanda, Quinn, and Torrin are extremely proud of the growth and success that the team has shown this season. The team makes their final stand November 5th at the premier regatta of the fall season, the Canadian University Rowing Championships. Stay tuned.


Press Officer Lemire