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Robert Blake wants to put U of R rowing back on the map

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

For the past decade, the University of Regina has had an off-and-on relationship with its rowing club, but the club’s new coach hopes to finally put a ring on it.

Robert Blake, the rowing club’s new head coach and first-year science student at the U of R, has decided to commit to the club with the hopes of turning it into something the school can be proud of.

After being introduced to the sport through his high school “Learn to Row” program five years ago, Blake instantly had a passion for the sport.  

“Rowing has impacted me in such a dramatic way, in such a positive way,” Blake said. “I was good at it and I enjoyed it. It was a great atmosphere, a great social atmosphere, that is severely underrated.”

Blake confesses he had enthusiastic coaches that helped him develop in the sport, something he hopes to do for other students.

Since taking over for Garrett Mathiason – former coach of the Regina Rowing Club and current southern provincial head coach for Saskatchewan – Blake admits the status of the club has been so up in the air that getting people to take part has been a challenge. Blake has been forced to resort to unlikely recruitment tactics in order to dig up information about the club’s status.

“I have seen people with the University of Regina rowing t-shirts so I have been talking to them and no one really knows what’s going on,” Blake said. “I have been talking to John Papendreos [Recreation Services Co-ordinator] and basically I have been trying to get something going. There is a lot of potential here and I want to make the most of it.”

Papendreos has been incredibly supportive of Blake’s desire to get the rowing club up and running again and hopes Blake can bring a positive atmosphere back to the club.

“Robert is extremely passionate about the sport of rowing and I am very confident that, under Robert’s leadership, the club will grow and have a greater and stronger presence on our campus,” he said. “I think that the rowing club is a perfect fit at the University of Regina. It has provided U of R students with opportunities to train in the sport of rowing at a social, recreational, and competitive level.”

Blake has been taking a look at the numbers for the rowing club and has put together an estimate for the amount of students he would like to see get involved, although he admits his estimations are a little ambitious.

“I think that my goal idealistically – this may be pushing it – I would really like to have about 18 people, split between girls and boys,” he said. “Eight is our biggest boat, so I would like to see one of those out of the regatta that we have here in Regina – that would be pretty amazing.”

While the first step in a lengthy list of things to do for Blake will be recruiting members, apart from playing the numbers game, there are many other duties that still need to be taken care of.

“I finally figured out when we can and can’t use the equipment,” Blake said. “Hopefully we can figure out some times and work stuff out now; it’s looking good.”

As the little things continue to fall into place, Blake has began setting many other goals for the future of the U of R rowing club, not just for the number of members.

“Short-term goals are getting the sport known, getting people to come down, and getting people to try it out and experience it,” he explained. “I think that my long-term goals for the program would be, set up some sort of on-water program.

“If we can get a large number of people to join up now and keep a certain number over the summer and get them hooked and train throughout the summer by the time the university championships come, I think it would be quite something if we had at least a few people out there.”

Papendreos sees the future of U of R rowing much in the same way Blake does and agrees that there is no reason why the U of R cannot be successful in rowing and the ultimate goal will be to have more people compete at the national level as in previous years.

“A number of U of R students, over the years, have participated in Canadian University Rowing Championships and indoor ergometer competitions and have done exceptionally well,” Papendreos said. “Given the relationship that the Regina rowing community and university has with Wascana Centre, it seems fitting that the U of R would have a student-based club.”

While the university championships are still months away, Blake believes the competition would be surprised with what Regina athletes have to offer on the water.

“[The competitors] don’t think we get on the water at all because we are the prairies,” said Blake with a laugh. “Even though we don’t have a club here, we still have the equipment, we still have the potential, and we still have people that are willing to do it.

“All we need now is people to join.”

If students are willing to experience rowing, Papendreos believes it will be one decision they don’t regret making in their university career.

“I firmly believe that the U of R Rowing Club, or any other student based program for that matter, that promotes student engagement as a means of enriching university life experience is good for our campus,” he said. “It is sometimes the nice-to-have programs vs. the need-to-have programs that add to the quality of student life at the U of R.”

While some students may be concerned that an impressive rowing resume is needed in order to get involved in the club, both Blake and Papendreos suggest that any students with the slightest inclination to get involved should simply try it out for themselves.

“I would encourage any student, regardless of experience and/or ability, to get involved with the U of R Rowing Club,” Papendreos said. “It is a tremendous opportunity to get fit, learn some new skills, and meet some wonderful new people.”

For further information on the rowing club, contact rowing@uregina.ca

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