Who’s on top of the world? Rowers race off Sid­ney

A and B fi­nals to­day at Tulista Park

Times Colonist - - Front Page - CLEVE DHEENSAW cd­heen­saw@times­colonist.com Twit­ter.com/tc_vic­sports

Canada’s Gus­tave Schoch, fore­ground, heads out in the coastal men’s solo heat dur­ing the 2018 World Row­ing Coastal Cham­pi­onships off Tulista Park in Sid­ney on Fri­day. Nearly 500 rowers from 24 na­tions are com­pet­ing in the event. The cham­pi­onships con­clude with the A and B fi­nals to­day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The nearly 500 rowers, from 24 na­tions, have trav­elled great dis­tances to com­pete in the 2018 FISA world coastal row­ing cham­pi­onships tak­ing place off Tulista Park.

Norm Healey just had to walk 10 min­utes from his Sid­ney house. He qual­i­fied fourth, with part­ner and two-time Olympian Anna-Marie de Zwa­ger of Vic­to­ria, be­hind France, Swe­den and Ger­many for to­day’s A fi­nal in the mixed dou­ble. That’s what you call home-wa­ter ad­van­tage. But it has been a long jour­ney in many other ways.

Healey was good enough to row var­sity for the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria Vikes pow­er­house pro­gram in the late 1980s and early 1990s, win­ing at Cana­dian Hen­ley, be­fore fo­cus­ing on his stud­ies. He kept fit run­ning, cy­cling and com­pet­ing in triathlons but had not been in a row­ing boat since re­tir­ing from the sport in 1993. That all changed when Healey was run­ning along the Sid­ney water­front this sum­mer and saw a coastal row­ing boat on the beach. Along­side it was 1992 Barcelona Olympics dou­ble gold-medal­list Brenda Tay­lor, whom Healey knew from the old days “and all that tremen­dous ex­cite­ment at Elk Lake sur­round­ing the 1992 Olympics.” As it hap­pens, Tay­lor is the chair­man of the world coastal cham­pi­onships or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee. A con­ver­sa­tion en­sued, and one thing led to an­other, and Tay­lor set Healey up with de Zwa­ger. And now here they are in the A fi­nal of the world cham­pi­onships.

“This is a dream come true,” said Healey, a 48-year-old en­vi­ron­men­tal tox­i­col­o­gist.

“It’s been 25 years in the mak­ing for me [since he last rowed]. I have to pinch my­self that this is re­ally hap­pen­ing.”

Coastal row­ing, how­ever, has pro­vided a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge from his for­mer row­ing days on Elk Lake.

“You have to deal with the wind, waves and cur­rent in coastal row­ing. You need more out­ward aware­ness,” said Healey, a fa­ther of two, who was also set to con­test the men’s sin­gles qual­i­fy­ing on Fri­day.

De Zwa­ger, mean­while, also only took up coastal row­ing over the sum­mer.

“It’s been 10 years since I com­peted in the Olympics at Bei­jing and this seemed like the right time to dip my toes back in the wa­ter, es­pe­cially with the coastal worlds hap­pen­ing in our own back­yard,” she said.

“Then you get down here and re­al­ize what a big deal this is, es­pe­cially among the Euro­pean rowers.”

De Zwa­ger was orig­i­nally sup­posed to row with Olympic gold-medal­list Adam Kreek in the mixed pair but when Kreek got in­jured, she was paired with Healey.

“[Healey] is back in a row­ing boat af­ter all these years and he has been such a great part­ner,” said de Zwa­ger.

“Norm is a triath­lete and re­mained su­per fit since his row­ing days.”

De Zwa­ger, an ex­er­cise ther­a­pist, has found big dif­fer­ences in coastal row­ing from her years on Elk Lake in which she qual­i­fied for the 2004 Athens and 2008 Olympics: “You some­times see whales and sea lions in coast row­ing and it’s al­most like you are sight­see­ing. That’s some­thing you don’t see on a lake in flat­wa­ter row­ing.”

De Zwa­ger will be in two fi­nals to­day. She also teamed with 2008 Bei­jing Olympic team­mate Zoe Light to qual­ify fifth for to­day’s A fi­nal in the women’s dou­ble.

“We were in Bei­jing to­gether at the Olympics and it’s been great to race with Zoe again,” she said.

The world cham­pi­onships con­clude with the A and B fi­nals to­day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ven­dors, food trucks, a craft beer and wine gar­den and en­ter­tain­ment have pro­vided a fes­ti­val feel at Tulista Park. Ad­mis­sion to the world cham­pi­onships is free.

Coastal row­ing in­volves sculls rac­ing from four to six kilo­me­tres in sin­gles, dou­bles and coxed quad. The sculls are self­bail­ing and wider, heav­ier and more sta­ble than reg­u­lar row­ing craft. Coastal row­ing is not yet in the Olympics, but will be mak­ing its de­but in the Pan Am Games next year in Lima, Peru.

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