Golden Gaels: Queen’s rowers are going places

6 rowers to represent Canada internationally this summer

The Gaels have been slicing through water and competition as of late.

Queen’s Rowing has found raucous success over the past year, enjoying win after win in regatta after regatta. On the personal as well as team level, the rowers have been able to do no wrong.

The medals flowed throughout last season, and poured in at the OUA and National Championships. Most notable was the ascendance of Gavin Stone, who won two golds at the Nationals and took home Male OUA Athlete of the Year. He also recently struck bronze in a Canadian boat at the most recent World Rowing Cup race.

The ball kept rolling in June, with announcements that five more Queen’s athletes were selected to represent Canada internationally. Michael Bryenton, Charlotte Deacon, Louise Munro, and Megan Stellato were all chosen to don the maple leaf for the U23 World Championships in Florida, while Alex Bernst will be travelling to Lima, Peru to compete in the Pan-American Games.

“They’re definitely pretty special,” said head coach Rami Maassarani in a phone interview with The Journal. “All these athletes have worked so hard to get to where they are, so it’s nice to see their work paying off.”

“They train for this goal but no one ever takes anything for granted. So when it does happen, it’s surprising for them … no one would ever walk into a team with the expectation that they would make it, which speaks to their character.”

But for outsiders, these developments might not be as surprising. Three years ago, Maassarani and co. altered the course of Queen’s Rowing with the decision to change their approach to the sport; the winds of fortune turned almost overnight.

“In the past it was just focusing on big boats and winning banners at the OUA Championships and at the Canadian National Championships.”

Then, they shifted their focus to developing the student athletes themselves.

“We spent a lot of time training and racing smaller boats, which are worth less points for the team championships but are very beneficial to [personal] training. So putting this athlete-first approach as opposed to the overall team championships approach has really contributed to our athletes’ development.

“It’s a fairly unique approach that we have compared to the other schools in the OUA and in Canada … Recent results have suggested that [it’s] working the way we intended it to.”

 Megan Stellato just wrapped up her first year at Queen’s and the attention to individual progress has already paid dividends: her selection to the U23 team opens a lot of doors.

“I’m able to continue to build and strengthen my knowledge of the sport with a more diverse group of people with all different experiences and backgrounds,” said the coxswain.

Charlotte Deacon echoed this sentiment: “U23s are a really great way for rowers to get a sense of competing on an international level as well as a stepping stone towards the senior team.

“The senior and U23 teams have a lot of overlap in terms of coaching, training schedule and such, so U23s are a good way to get on senior coaches’ radars and to start making a name for yourself.”

Deacon and Stellato have already been rubbing shoulders with Canada’s finest at the National Training Centre in Victoria, B.C., as they work with their new teammates to get ready for the fast-approaching race, slated to take place from July 24-28.

“With such little time until world championships, it takes a lot of discipline and teamwork to come together to be a fast boat that can race well together,” said Stellato.

It’s fortunate then that Stellato and Deacon are literally in the same boat, especially considering the odds were far from in their favour: “Queen’s Rowing is a very small team compared to most university rowing teams,” Deacon pointed out. “I think it’s very telling that such a large number of us are representing Canada this summer.”

From Kingston to Victoria and soon to Florida, or Peru in the case of Bernst, or Holland in the case of Stone, the sun never sets on Queen’s Rowing. 

“Honestly, it’s kind of surreal,” admits Stellato. “I used to go on the Rowing Canada website all the time and look at the team photos and think to myself, ‘I want to be there,’ and now I am. I have worked incredibly hard to get to this point and truthfully, I’m proud.”

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