In this first of a series of articles, we look at youth and university rowers at clubs in Canada and the Netherlands.

Keeping spirits up in Canada
Julia Toljagic is the coordinator for the junior rowing team at Hanlan Boat Club, a small rowing club in Toronto, Canada. The club has about 130 members, of which 23 are juniors. Toljagic has been working with her club to ensure that these young athletes are able to continue to practice safely and according to the measures outlined by the Canadian government.

“It’s really important to maintain structure and routine and have a sense of normalcy, even when the world slips away,” says Toljagic.

Making the best of it
The measures put into place at Hanlan Boat Club aimed at making the best possible situation for all club members. That meant the juniors reduced from six practices per week to four in order to limit the number of people at the club and free up boat availability. The club is only using single sculls for the majority of its members, except for those from the same family.

“We’re lucky that we have three to four sets of siblings training,” Toljagic says. “They can train in doubles, while the rest go in singles.”

The juniors would normally learn to row in bigger boats, like quadruple sculls, yet the obligatory switch to single sculls may have some unintended positive consequences.

“It’s helpful for them in the singles. They learn about direct control that their movements have on the boat. They have better water feel and they become really good at getting back in,” Toljagic says.

The end of summer
She adds that they started training at the end of the summer, so falling into the water was still safe. As they head into the colder months, on-water training will no longer be possible, and the club does not own indoor rowing machines.

“We train indoors at a gym. But gyms are currently on lockdown,” Toljagic explains. “We are looking into some weight sessions, or online workouts, or potentially a cross-country ski trip.”

No matter what it is, Toljagic is keen to keep the sprits up among her young rowers and make sure they maintain their relationship to the sport.

Skoll Rowing Club in Amsterdam, the Netherlands / photo Lotte Burgers © FISA

Dutch University rowing
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the university rowing clubs in the Netherlands are struggling with some of the same issues. Anna Vos is the president of the university rowing club Skoll in Amsterdam.

University rowing is unusually organised in the Netherlands. The university clubs attract large numbers of members – and provide not only competitive rowing, but also recreational rowing and socialising. They are run by a board of students who take a one-year break from their studies to work full-time for the rowing clubs.

Vos says that she ran for president of the board in April, during the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak. “I was aware that it would be a strange year,” she says. “But I am studying human resources and thought it would be a very interesting challenge.”

A boom in interest
The first surprise came when the club received more than 500 applications for new members, almost twice the normal amount.

“We thought students would be staying at their parents and we would have fewer applicants. But it turns out many came to Amsterdam and wanted a way to connect with others, as most of their classes were online,” Vos says.

They selected 400 of the applicants and then went about planning the training schedule. They were limited by the boat capacity and the number of rowers that were allowed to be at the club at one time.

“We’ve been working with the Dutch Rowing Federation and the Amsterdam Health Department to determine how the rules apply to us,” Vos says.

This is a common theme. The governments declare measures to combat the coronavirus, and then the regions, cities and clubs have to determine how the measures can be applied within their contexts. Vos says that the rowing federation and the city have been very helpful in setting this straight.

Reducing socialising
But for a Dutch university rowing club, the inability to throw parties is a big disappointment.

“We normally have a lot more parties,” Vos says. In a normal year, they offer dinner to club members twice a week and the evening usually evolves into a party. The social aspect is something Vos wants to maintain.

“We are trying to keep the connection with our members, we don’t want to lose it because there are no events and no rowing,” she explains. “So the board is investing in the social aspect with some online events and things like that.”

Adjusting the space
The empty dining hall has been turned into extra space for warming up and indoor training. The competitive rowers are still allowed to train on the water in singles – and still do indoor and weight training sessions. The social rowers will have to be satisfied with the occasional online meeting – and hope for more parties in the years to come.