Finding hidden talents

Beginner rowers have a place within Queen’s TID program

Rowers in the Talent Identification program are limited to one year in the program, as previous rowing experience is not allowed.
Rowers in the Talent Identification program are limited to one year in the program, as previous rowing experience is not allowed.

Jenna Adams came to Queen’s to play volleyball. Three weeks later, she’s switched from land to water, swapped a ball for an oar — and transformed from veteran to beginner.

She’s one of 36 novice rowers in the Gaels’ Talent Identification (TID) stream, the introductory tier of Queen’s storied rowing program. While Queen’s varsity boats are heavily composed of recruited and national-calibre athletes, TID relies exclusively on beginners.

Anyone with past experience need not apply.

Acting as both a feeder to the Gaels varsity team and an outlet for students to take up a new sport, TID recruits heavily at the start of the school year, encouraging all comers to try out for the club’s developmental crews.

Occasionally, they’ll attract a transplanted athlete like Adams, a pre-season cut from the women’s volleyball team.

“I was kind of freaking out about the time commitment I’d planned to do for volleyball and what I was going to do with that extra time,” Adams said.

To fill the void, she went through the TID selection process in early September, testing her strength and indoor rowing ability alongside over a hundred other candidates.

From there, the novice team was culled to 18 men and 18 women, split into four boats to compete throughout the TID season. They’ve moved to the water for their initial weeks of practice: first learning how to row as individuals, then merging those lessons as a team.

“Coming from not knowing anything about rowing, I’ve pretty much learned everything — all the terminology, technique and skill,” Adams said. “They’ll take you and train you and mould you into the athlete you should be to successfully row.”

Because there’s a one-year limit on TID team membership, Queen’s developmental program targets a wide array of potential prospects each season. It’s quantity over quality, in the hopes that a few may progress to elite university rowing.

Fifth-year rower Jordan Rendall grew up playing competitive lacrosse and a host of other sports, but didn’t row until coming to Queen’s. After receiving the TID recruiting pitch during his first Frosh Week, he attended tryouts and cracked the novice roster.

This season will be his third with the Gaels varsity team.

“I think the novice program is really good for introducing the sport. Taking it to varsity comes down to the person,” Rendall said. “The novice program just introduces [rowing] and allows you to gauge whether you want to take it further.”

Rendall is an anomaly among his current teammates, becoming a rare varsity veteran to emerge from the TID program. Most of the men’s varsity team was recruited directly out of high school, and while 36 beginners join the club each year, Rendall said not many last beyond their initial season.

Still, developmental rowing programs have gained prominence at schools around the country. With the TID boats set to race at Trent and Brock in October, they’ll face the same opposing colours as their varsity counterparts.

“Every race that the TIDs will be in this fall, they’re racing the other school’s TID program,” Rendall said. “Every school pretty much needs it if they want to develop new varsity athletes.”

This year, of any, demonstrates the value of developmental rowing at Queen’s. Three female rowers moved to varsity in 2013 after their novice seasons — including Robyn Finley, a rugby player that converted to rowing at Queen’s.

Finley said the Gaels’ TID program is modelled after a Rowing Canada initiative, which targets athletes in other sports with a suitable build and athleticism to make the switch.

While physical skills are essential to progressing through the ranks, the success of Queen’s novice program is predicated on sheer dedication.

“It comes down to commitment of every single athlete in the boat to be there,” Finley said. “Everybody’s learning everything at the exact same rate — no one comes into it with any experience.

“Feeling like you’re learning these skills really quickly, with a bunch of people who are literally in the same boat as you, is really cool.”

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