Decades of service

Rowing coach prepares for the end of his time with Queen’s

In 38 years as the rowing program’s head coach, John Armitage has led the Gaels to 13 OUA women’s championships, seven OUA men’s titles, and the 2007 women’s national championship.
In 38 years as the rowing program’s head coach, John Armitage has led the Gaels to 13 OUA women’s championships, seven OUA men’s titles, and the 2007 women’s national championship.
John Armitage has been named the OUA men’s Coach of the Year three times as the head coach of the Gaels.
John Armitage has been named the OUA men’s Coach of the Year three times as the head coach of the Gaels.

After 38 years, next weekend will mark John Armitage’s final OUA rowing championship.

He’ll step down as head coach of the Gaels rowing program on Dec. 31, having occupied the role for nearly four decades.

The rigorous demands of the position have proven too much in recent years, Armitage said. He also cited his desire to spend more time with his family in Kingston as part of the reason for his retirement.

“I need to reclaim time for my [two] grandchildren,” Armitage said.

Over his years at the helm of the Gaels, Armitage led the women’s team to 13 OUA titles and the 2007 Canadian championship. On the men’s side, his squad has captured seven provincial titles, and he’s been named the men’s OUA Coach of the Year three times.

He’ll stay on with the team heading forward, but will do so in a reduced capacity.

“I’d like to be an assistant to a head coach and continue coaching a crew,” he said.

Apart from being head coach of the Gaels’ program and overseeing the heavyweight women’s crews, Armitage is the president of Brookland Fine Homes — a local housing development company — and the head coach at the Kingston Rowing Club.

Much like he’s doing at Queen’s, Armitage will likely take on a smaller role at the city club in the coming years.

Like the rest of Queen’s coaching staff, Armitage has been a volunteer for his entire tenure. He said there are drawbacks to not being a full-time university coach.

“You just can’t give the athletes the time they deserve,” he said. “As volunteers we just don’t have the time to recruit, and the key to success is recruiting.”

Over the past year, University officials have been raising money for an $800,000 endowment fund, Armitage said, from which a full-time rowing coach could be paid — potentially as soon as next year.

Even as a volunteer, Armitage rises early each day to help his rowers train. The training for the OUA championships has been heavy this week, he said, but it’ll be less strenuous next week in the lead-up to competition on Oct. 25.

In rowing, athletes have no control over the speed of their opponent, so the focus is on personal perfection.

“We’re peaking for that event,” Armitage said. “Which means this week we’re going through killer workouts to exhaust them — next week we’ll taper.”

Armitage has used heavy training sessions to try to build stronger rowers throughout his time at Queen’s. Women’s heavyweight rower Larkin Davenport-Huyer has trained under Armitage for the last three seasons, with her squad being personally overseen by him this season.

“He’s great, he’s hilarious and hard-working,” Davenport-Huyer said. “Probably the busiest person I’ve ever met, yet totally committed to all the things he does.”

Despite being a young group of rowers, the heavyweight women’s eight have earned a gold and two silvers at events this season. In solo competition, Davenport Huyer has won two events and silvered at the Brock Invitational last Saturday.

Davenport-Huyer said she has enjoyed working with Armitage during her three years with the Gaels. His involvement, she said, goes farther back than any active rower.

“Because people come in and out every four or five years, a lot of people don’t realize how much effort he’s put into the team,” she said.

Davenport-Huyer said the possibility of bringing in a full-time coach could be beneficial for the program.

“Being a volunteer and waking up at 4:30 is really tough, so I think it will be only positive to have someone like that, as much as we’ll miss John,” she said.

Last Row Before OUAs

The Gaels captured 12 medals at their most recent event: the Brock Invitational, held in St. Catharines on Oct. 11.

— Women’s Single: Silver (Larkin Davenport-Huyer)

— Women’s Pairs: Silver (Meredith Adams and Milica Banic)

— Women’s Lightweight fours: Silver

— Women’s Fours: Silver

— Women’s Lightweight Eights: Silver

— Women’s Eights: Sivler

— Women’s Lightweight Single: Bronze (Danielle Abusow)

— Men’s Single: Silver (Matt Christie)

— Men’s Pairs: Bronze (Matt Christie and Richard Fennema)

— Men’s Lightweight Fours: Bronze

— Men’s Fours: Bronze

— Men’s Eights: Bronze

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