Like the Florida snow-birds, the Canadian Olympic crew teams comes to enjoy the sunshine and the hospitality of Florida – and they have chosen to Stetson University's rowing site as a winter training locale.
What makes this year's camp special is that it is an Olympic year. So Stetson University, in its own way, had a hand in helping these great athletes as they prepare for the Olympic Games.
Al Morrow, the Canadians’ head women's coach, raved about Stetson’s hospitality.
“Several of our women broke seven minutes flat for 2K, right in your erg room,” Morrow said. “That will always remain as a notable moment for us.”
Seven minutes for two thousand meters (2K) is a lightning fast erg time. The pair of women who posted the time went on to win a bronze medal in the last Olympic Games. But then again, nothing the Canadians Olympic rowers do is shabby. They won gold in the men's eight in Beijing and their women have consistently medaled over the decades.
Part of their success is the time they spend at Stetson's crew site. The erg room in Edmunds has been converted into offices now and the boathouse at Lake Beresford, where the ergs are now, unfortunately did not see such notable times this year.
Morrow is not only a world class coach, he is a genuinely nice guy. In 1999, the London, Ontario, based coach was recognized by the world rowing federation (FISA) as Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Morrow is now concentrating on the development of the lightweight women's program. In 2008, Morrow coached the lightweight women's double that picked up an Olympic bronze medal in China.
“It is a thrill to have the Olympians at our site,” Stetson head coach Susan SaintSing said. “I just love to see them walking around. Of course, having the privilege to watch them row is a gift of a lifetime for any coach.
“I encouraged my assistant coach and several of my senior and best rowers to go out and take a peek at their form and technique. It is a very rare opportunity.”
Each year the Canadians do a little something for Stetson. This year Morrow himself gave a 40 minute coaching talk on sprinting to Stetson Rowers.
Another terrific opportunity this year were the adaptive rowers the Canadians brought in to train. They were training an adaptive four and single.
“It is a privilege to see the courage of these visually impaired athletes and to see a wheel chair on our dock,” SaintSing said. “It just moves you to tears to see the dedication and guts and skill of these Olympic hopefuls.”
Jeff Dunbrack, the lead Coach of the Canadian National Adaptive Program, was the team leader for the silver medal winning men's wheelchair basketball team at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. His experience in the Canadian Paralympic community, and his own rowing background at Brock University, sets him apart as a great coach for these adaptive rowers.
The Canadians – along with Michigan State, Lafayette, Temple, Coast Guard, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Virginia – all use Stetson's rowing site for their winter training camps because of the water and the relative anonymity they have for training.
“Stetson is very lucky to have these elite caliber teams come to them in their own backyard, SaintSing said. “Most rowers row their whole life and never see Olympians in their boathouse.”
In the Stetson house there is a Canadian oar and flag hung to make the guests feel at home. They comment on it each year and Morrow says he always smiles when he sees it. The Hatters smile when they see the Canadians as well.
The hope is they will return each year, like the other snow-birds who populate Florida during the winter months.