Flood washes away high school rowing season

High levels on the Ottawa River have forced the Ottawa Rowing Club to cancel this year's high school season — and that means local athletes will miss the national championships.

Ottawa Rowing Club currently inaccessible to athletes

The Ottawa River has swelled to the doors of the Ottawa Rowing Club's two boat houses, preventing the club from starting their spring season. (Darren Major/CBC)

High levels on the Ottawa River have forced the Ottawa Rowing Club to cancel this year's high school season, preventing local athletes from attending this month's national championships.

River levels have reached the two boat houses, making it impossible for the club to install its docks in before the championships — the final high school rowing event of the year — which begin in St. Catharines, Ont., on May 31.

On top of the club being inaccessible, the frigid, swiftly flowing river also poses a safety concern, said coach Cliff Brimmell.

"We've got too much water on the river," Brimmell said. "It sounds odd."

The pathway that athletes and coaches use to access the Ottawa Rowing Club has been flooded by rising river waters. (Darren Major/CBC)

Indoor training won't cut it

While the issues facing the rowers pale in comparison to residents whose homes are flooded, Brimmell said it's still disheartening for young athletes who've put in a tremendous amount of training over the winter.

"It's tough for these kids to be inside, cooped up and not to be out doing what they've trained so hard for all year long," he said.

Athletes have been training off the water on ergometers, or stationary rowing machines. But the machines are used mostly to keep athletes in shape over the winter months and can't imitate the synchronization of rowing with a crew of four or eight.

As a result, the treacherous water means they simply don't have enough time to prepare this year.

Grade 11 athletes Mackenzie Mihorean and Rachel Weber won the junior double sculls event at last year's championship, but won't get the opportunity to compete for the senior double sculls title this year.

"All we've been thinking about all winter is this competition," Mihorean said.

Ottawa high school rowers have been training indoors all winter, but without getting in some training on the water, they won't be able to compete in the national championships. (Darren Major/CBC)

'Nothing we can really do'

When the two athletes found out about they wouldn't be going to the championships, they both scrambled to come up with any possible scenario that would allow them to go.

But once the news set in, they decided to switch their focus to next year's high school championships.

"There's nothing we can really do about it at this point," Weber said. "We'll just have to focus on summer now and focus on next year, too."

Coaches and athletes involved in Ottawa's high school rowing teams say missing the national championships is disappointing, but they're turning their attention to summer competitions. 0:50

But for Grade 12 athlete Declan McCoy, this was his last chance to represent his high school on the water.

McCoy said he was looking forward to taking part in the tradition of senior athletes trading racing uniforms with rowers from other schools, but despite missing out on the tradition has found one silver lining.

"There's something nice about being able to hang onto my uni and saying goodbye," McCoy said.

2017 flood delayed season

Typically the club is able to open in mid-to-late April, giving high school athletes ample time to prepare for the championships.

The 2017 floods also forced the rowing club to delay the start of the season, but they were able to get athletes on the water six days before the national championship.

"We did make it just by the skin of our teeth," Brimmell said.

With this year's spring season gone, Brimmell said the focus — not just for high school athletes but for the rest of the club as well — is now on the summer season, which begins in June and runs until early August.

"It's going to be business usual, because we are not straying from any of our scheduled programs. We're going to make adjustments," he said.

As for the future, Brimmell said the club is considering other options, such as moving boats to the Rideau River in case spring flooding becomes a consistent problem.


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