By Zachary Cormier
The best rowers from around the province of Alberta converged on Blackfalds last weekend as the Central Alberta Rowing Club (CARC) hosted the 2016 Alberta Indoor Rowing Championships at the Abbey Centre last Saturday.
More than 120 competitors from every age category participated in the event, which is the premier indoor rowing competition in Alberta.
“This is the main annual competition in Alberta that we host for all of the rowing clubs in Alberta,” said Andy Nokes, president of the CARC.
Indoor rowing is a sport that was conceived to keep competitive rowers active while outdoor bodies of water are frozen in many countries around the world.
“It’s virtually worldwide. It’s the use of rowing machines, they’re designed and manufactured in the U.S., they simulate the feel and the forces of rowing in a boat,” explained Nokes, adding the machines also mimic the movements an athlete would use when out on the water.
The machines are plugged into a computer that allows athletes to virtually ‘race’ each other using the stationary rowing machines and keeps track of the distance travelled and the speed at which a boat would be travelling.
“These indoor competitions, ours is fairly small. We had 13 race ergometers, we refer to them as Ergs. Some competitions can have 20 or 30 or more.”
Just six people from Central Alberta took part in the competition last Saturday, with one, CARC Vice President Emily Stapley, taking home a bronze medal in the Master Women category.
The majority of the athletes that took part on Saturday, especially in the Junior categories, he said, came from larger centres such as Calgary or Edmonton.
“I think everyone else gains much more than us in some ways,” Nokes said of the provincials, which the CARC has hosted annually since 2005.
The CARC is based on Lacombe Lake, a small body of water located about 10 minutes north of Blackfalds, and Nokes said that is part of the reason the Club hosts the indoor event each year.
“We don’t have the facilities at the lake to run a regatta. All of the other clubs in Alberta, they run regattas during the summer on their water and what we do as our annual event for the province is we run the indoor rowing championships. Really it’s our participation towards the provincial rowing. I find it’s great fun to organize.”
Another reason that the CARC’s athletes’ participation in the event is so low is due to the lack of junior, or high school-aged, rowers that the club has right now. Not a single junior rower from the CARC competed last Saturday.
“The thing about juniors is that, especially Grade 12 juniors, is that as soon as they finish school they’re off all over the place, so we have to replace them from year to year.”
The Club has been taking steps to address that lack of junior participation, however, and has recently set up a partnership with Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School (LTCHS) in Red Deer to aid in the recruitment of younger athletes.
The program will allow the CARC to work directly with the school’s sports performance class to introduce rowing as either a way to supplement existing training or as a way to remain active and physically fit over the summer months.
“Rowing is a late entry sport, so ideally the student needs to be 14, 15 so that, physically, they’ve got the right size and flexibility and capacity. The challenge we have is taking existing, fit teenagers and showing them how to row in a very short period of time,” Nokes explained, adding that training usually entails beginning work on the rowing machines before hitting the water around mid-May.
“We’ll get them into intense training on the water in terms of technique and then into some races before the end of June.”
According to Nokes, there are a number of reasons a young athlete might consider taking up rowing.
“I think there are a number of reasons. Some athletes, they switch to rowing because they’ve reached a plateau in their own sport, or they haven’t quite made it to the first team but they’re of a very competitive mindset and, with the right build, rowing offers some great opportunity.”
Because rowing is a minority sport with fewer competitive athletes, new competitors may be able to move up the ranks much quicker than a sport like hockey.
“As we’ve found in Alberta, a number of athletes start rowing at the university level and then got through to the national team. There are less people rowing competitively in Canada than a lot of the other sports. I mean, certainly if you compare it with hockey,” Nokes said, adding that rowing is also a great way to stay physically fit.
The CARC is currently recruiting rowers of all ages for the outdoor season, which is set to kick off in mid-May. Anyone interested in participating can get in contact with the CARC by visiting http://albertarowing.ca/get-involved/clubs/central-alberta-rowing-club/or by calling Andy Nokes at 403-782-0732.