Canada's under-23 Darvill dynamic
The woman behind Canada's women’s team at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Varese, Italy is Olympian and three-time World Champion, coach Michelle Darvill.
Sport is something that has always been a part of Darvill’s lifestyle. It began when her mother enrolled her in competitive swimming in her hometown of Mississauga, Canada at the age of 11. Darvill can recall her swim coach as a tough, successful woman who pushed her athletes to test their limits. This experience in Darvill's formative years provided her with the grounding for her personal philosophy, first as an athlete and then as a coach.
“You can’t set limits for yourself. That’s the really great thing about sport. You don’t really know what your body can do. Sport offers you the stage to see where you can push yourself,” says Darvill.
Following an extensive competitive career in swimming, Darvill tried rowing as a social sport in university. Little did she know how much success she would find on the water, rather than in it.
Darvill’s first international start put her one place off of the podium in the lightweight women’s double sculls for Canada in 1991. Two year later, she found the top of the podium as World Champion in the lightweight women’s single sculls. That year was a special year for Darvill. “We had a fantastic team. It was the first time the men and women were training together and we all thrived on the competitiveness of the workouts.”
Having dual citizenship, enabled Darvill to compete for Germany where she added more medals to her collection. In 2000 she ended her international career after ten seasons and ten international medals, including gold in the lightweight double at the 1997 World Rowing Championships. “There were always components of high performance sport that I loved," says Darvill. "I thrived on hard work and enjoyed the challenge of great competition.”
Darvill began working with Canada's under 23 women’s team in 2009 as the lead coach. Success followed quickly, although she is willing to deflect any credit to the athletes themselves. “It's really exciting to see these women come into the programme, full of raw talent and sometimes with self doubt, and then have them come out with a whole new outlook on what they are capable of. My goal is to motivate them to train hard, row well and move on to success within the senior squad.”
Using her vast experience as an athlete, Darvill was able to provide her team with a competitive advantage. As part of her role, she travels to local clubs and universities to discuss training programmes, technique and racing strategy with coaches. Her training programme has now contributed to many under-23 medals including an under-23 World Best Time in 2011 in the women’s eight.
Earlier this month at the World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Canadian women’s eight, quadruple sculls and lightweight double sculls won gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. This medal count is impressive as it includes a diverse range of disciplines - sculling, sweep and lightweight. Of the 15 seats available in these boats, ten were occupied by graduates of Darvill’s programme.
Included in Darvill's philosophy for success is her belief that young athletes need to be exposed a high performance environment and understand that success comes with dedication to consistent and focused practice.
“Michelle has a talent for identifying athletes, and preparing them for international racing," says Canada's women’s performance director, John Keogh. "She also has done a fantastic job of liaising and developing partnerships throughout Canada and the United States with university and club coaches who in turn contribute to our next generation.”
The words of Darvill's first swimming coach and her subsequent experience as an elite athlete has served Darvill well as she continues to seek out Canada’s future Olympians.