Northerner makes World Rowing Cup debut

'I would love to go to the Olympics. World Cup is definitely a step in the right direction,' says N.W.T. athlete.

Olympic rowing hopeful with Dehcho roots competes in her first World Rowing Cup

Jessie Loutit in front in Lucerne, Switzerland. Louttit is a sweep rower — meaning she races with one oar — on a four-person crew, also known as Women's Four. (Merijn Soeters/Rowing Canada )

Jessie Loutit isn't a household name in the North. But that could soon change.

She's making her World Rowing Cup III debut in Switzerland on July 13. 

Loutit, 29, is from Fort Simpson, and she's been rowing for 10 years. She qualified for Canada's national rowing team in January 2018. 

"I would love to go to the Olympics," she said, days before boarding a plane for Switzerland. "World Cup is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of things that have to happen, and it's two years away so we will see."

Loutit said she's nervous but excited about competing for her country.

Jessie Loutit poses before her race at the 2015 World University Games in South Korea. (Submitted by Jessie Loutit)

"This is by far the furthest I've gone with rowing. It is definitely a dream come true," she said. "Something I've wanted for many years."

According to the Rowing Canada website, Loutit is one of 31 rowers representing Canada in Switzerland. She is believed to be the first Mé​tis woman from the Northwest Territories to compete at a World Cup rowing event.

Loutit is a sweep rower — meaning she races with one oar — on a four-person crew, also known as Women's Four.

She started rowing at the University of Calgary in 2008, when a friend encouraged her try out for the team. The coaches liked what they saw in her six-foot athletic frame.

"In rowing it's an advantage to be tall. So I guess they liked that and they kept me around," she said. "Longer limbs mean bigger strokes or more length in the water."

After graduating with a kinesiology degree in 2011, Loutit worked as a chiropractor's assistant for a few years. But she still dreamed of rowing for Canada, so she went back to school to study accounting and rowed for the University of Western Ontario.

Despite a traumatic knee injury from a bike accident, Loutit qualified for the national team this year, and continues to rise for 7 a.m. practices, six days a week. She said her accounting degree, work and a social life are on hold.

She relies on sporting grants to keep her bills paid.

Competitive at a young age

Jessie Loutit, right, and Keri-Ann Loutit, during their competitive soccer playing days in Fort Simpson. (Submitted by Pat Rowe)

Loutit's mother died when she was a teenager. Her dad, Ernie Loutit, still lives in Fort Simpson. She has a close and supportive network of uncles, aunts and cousins in the North.

One of her biggest cheerleaders is her sister, Keri-Ann Loutit, who lives in Yellowknife. 

"We were pretty competitive growing up, but it was friendly competition," she wrote in an email to CBC.

"Whether we were playing 21 on a homemade basketball court or one-on-one on an outdoor rink, we would constantly challenge one another in sports, but we always wanted to play on the same team because we played really well together."

When Keri-Ann found out her sister made the national rowing team, she "definitely teared up."

"It was a huge moment for her and knowing how much she put in to get to this point," she said.

Booking flights for 2020

Coverage of the World Cup finals in Lucerne July 13 to 15 will stream live, but that isn't good enough for Loutit's uncle, Pat Rowe.

Rowe, who lives in Fort Simpson, booked a last minute ticket to Switzerland this week. He's scheduled to land in time for Loutit's first race.

He described his niece as a class act, on and off the water.

"You'd have a hard time finding a better person to talk to. Very soft spoken, very nice. But plays with a determination to compete on a must-win basis," said Rowe. "Couldn't be prouder."

Rowe is so confident in Loutit's athletic potential, he's already looked into airfares for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

Jessie Loutit, far right, at the 2015 World University Games in South Korea. Loutit rowed for the University of Western Ontario. (Submitted by Jessie Loutit)