Two years ago, local teen Molly Hazel got talked into learning to row when a friend needed a rowing partner to take part in the Orillia Rowing Club’s Learn to Row program.
Although already active in competitive hockey, soccer, and swimming, “we had been in lockdown for over a year and I was looking to try something new," said Hazel.
That something new was rowing.
“Last year I joined the youth rowing program in May, thinking I would maybe compete in some local regattas for fun," Hazel explained. "That was the first time I tried rowing a single scull and I loved it and I really enjoyed being out on the water and improving my technique and my speed. By the end of June, I didn't want to stop, so I joined the competitive program.”
Earlier this month, Hazel's coach, Anne Hodkin thought it would help her to take part in Row Ontario’s Small Boat Trials in Welland. Although hosted by the provincial rowing organization, the Small Boat Trials are open to athletes from any province, with this year’s event also drawing competitors from Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Despite being open geographically, the Small Boat Trials is a high-performance event that many rowers use as preparation for national team selections.
Due to the unseasonably cold weather and rough winds earlier this month, Hazel had very little time to prepare. Still, Hodkin figured that “Molly is showing a lot of skill and it is important that she gets to attend this kind of inter provincial trials so that she is comfortable in the surroundings. We are doing this for the experience, with no expectations of winning the event; having been on the water for less than two weeks.”
The event is run in two phases. During the initial time trial, the athletes row to see which heat they will be placed in.
Hazel finished ranked 30th out of the 42 women and 7th out of the U17 athletes. Most of the other U17 athletes ahead of her had posted time trial times of about 15 seconds faster than her.
Next, the rowers were placed in heats with other rowers, regardless of their age, who had similar results in the time trials. This is to give the rowers a competitive race. Going into the final race, Hazel was feeling positive; she knew her initial time did not reflect her potential and she was ready for the race.
After the final heats, Hazel, 15, placed second among the U17 women and posted the 12th fastest time of the day for the women (of all ages) out of the 42 female athletes.
Hodkin was thrilled.
"This is a great result for Molly considering her age and the amount of preparation time we had for this," said Hodkin. "Many of these other athletes have been rowing for many years and have many seasons behind them.”
Hazel was pleased, too.
“This year was supposed to be a trial run for the next two years so I'd know what to expect. That being said, I am quite competitive and I wanted to do fairly well," said Hazel.
"I am really happy with the way I raced and I think I learned a lot. There were many small bumps on race day that were out of our control, but I think we handled them and learned a lot from them and I'm really proud of my times," said Hazel.
Hazel's next competition is the Canadian Secondary Schools Regatta where she is representing her school, Twin Lakes Secondary School.
She said she is "also looking forward to Row Ontario, Henley and the long course season in the fall. Eventually, I would love to row for university, but we've still got a couple years before that happens.
"I'm still relatively new at this so I'm just very grateful for all the opportunities and experiences I've had thanks to the club, my coaches, and my parents," said Hazel.
The Orillia Rowing Club is offering free Try Out Rowing sessions May 27 and 28. Drop in anytime between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the club’s boathouse in Tudhope Park.
For those who don’t need further convincing, the club is hosting two Learn-To-Row weekends, June 10-11 and June 24-25. Youths can take part in one of the city’s three, all-day, summer Rowing Camps (July 4-7, 10-14, and 17-21; register via the city’s Sun Registration website). Further information about the club and its programs can be found at the club’s website.