Kathleen Heddle, Canadian Olympic rowing champion, dead of cancer at age 55

Kathleen Heddle, who partnered with Marnie McBean and captured three Olympic gold medals for Canada in rowing, died of cancer on Monday at the age of 55.

2-time Olympian, along with partner Marnie McBean, inspired generation of athletes

Canadian Olympic rowing champion Kathleen Heddle died of cancer on Monday at the age of 55. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Three-time Olympic rowing champion Kathleen Heddle has died of cancer at age 55.

Canada's Heddle and rowing partner Marnie McBean won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996 in the coxless pair and double sculls respectively. Heddle also earned gold with the women's eight in 1992.

"I am crushed and without words today at this loss," McBean wrote Wednesday on Twitter. "Too soon."

Heddle battled breast and lymph-node cancer followed by melanoma and brain cancer for six years.

She died Monday at home in Vancouver, according to a Rowing Canada statement issued Wednesday on behalf of her family.

"While our grief is as heavy as the darkest moment of night, the gifts given to us by Kathleen shine bright as the moon and stars," her family said in the statement.

"With time, memories of our happiest days with Kathleen will be sure to overcome our tears."

The statement included a November 2020 quote from Heddle: "How is it that amongst some of the worst days ever, you can also experience some of the best?"

Quiet resolve

Heddle was born in Trail, B.C., but her family moved to Vancouver when she was an infant. She became a rower while attending the University of British Columbia.

Heddle and McBean are the only Canadian athletes to win three gold medals in the Summer Olympic Games. They also claimed gold in the pair at the 1991 and 1995 world championships.

Her quiet resolve was the foil to McBean's more dominant personality.

WATCH | A look back at Heddle and McBean's golden partnership:

McBean & Heddle, gold-winning rowers at 1996 Atlanta Games

27 years ago
Duration 2:44
Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle's diverging personalities converge.

"Kathleen had an incredible sense of touch, seemingly aware of the natural rhythm and flow in things," her family wrote in their tribute to her.

"Kathleen loved the serenity of being on the water and in nature, always a proponent of wearing a hat and sunscreen, even on a cloudy day."

Heddle and McBean were inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. 

"It doesn't seem possible that this incredible athlete and beautiful person is gone," Heddle's Canadian rowing teammate Silken Laumann wrote on Twitter. "The world has lost a true hero."

"Rowing was part of Kathleen's life but they were the whole of it," wrote McBean.

Canadian Olympic Committee president and former Olympic rower Tricia Smith was Heddle's friend.

"Kathleen was the greatest of Olympians in every sense of the word and a rock for all who knew her," Smith said in a statement.

"A proud Canadian of such depth of character, she approached everything she did with integrity and grace. Never seeking the limelight and always looking out for others, she represented the best of Olympic values."

Heddle is survived by her husband, Mike, and children, Lyndsey and Mac.