A Norfolk County woman has received recognition for her contributions to high school rowing.
Sue Fairley of Port Dover was given an award of excellence from the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association. The award was presented at a ceremony in St. Catharines on June 2.
Fairley was one of the founding members of the Silver Lake Rowing Club in Port Dover in 1998. She then started the Port Dover Composite School rowing club in 1999, and within five years was also coaching the high performers from Simcoe Composite School and Holy Trinity Catholic High School.
Fairley stayed home with her four children while her husband was at work, but they did need an early morning babysitter to watch the kids while she was out at practice, which started at 5:30 a.m.
“When my husband worked weekends the kids just got to come to a lot of regattas,” said Fairley.
The clubs had access to 700 metres of rowable water where they practised on Silver Lake in Port Dover. They would use this water to train for 2,000 metre races.
In the stretch of water they would practice in they needed to stop at the 700-metre mark, turn around, and then start going again. This was initially an issue when Fairley spotted her rowers slowing down at about the 700-metre mark of races because at practice this was the point they would turn around.
While this could have been seen as a challenge, Fairley saw it as an opportunity.
She added significantly more cross training on land to their practices to make up for the cardio work lost when they needed to turn around.
This small water was also a bonus because when attending regattas teams need to be able to turn around and back into a starting gate, which can be challenging for new teams. It was not a problem for any of Fairley’s rowers because they had so much practice turning around in their practice pond.
Her rowers got to sit in the gate and watch the other teams navigate turning around and backing up, which gave them a boost of confidence prior to a race.
“Sue’s focus was totally on the athlete,” said Jim Dover, the president of the Silver Lake Rowing Club. “It didn’t matter if they were a high performer or not, she just wanted to get the best that they could do. That’s what she kept them focused on, just doing better.”
Fairley spent the year coaching students from SCS, HT, and PDCS, meaning they would have to compete against each other at competitions during the school year.
“I also coached summers, so they’d all have to come together in one crew in the summer,” said Fairley. “They developed a lot of respect.”
The season for a high performer rower starts in October, where they begin training on land five days a week, for two hours a day. Competitions then begin every other weekend in January in cities like London or Toronto, where coaches spend the entire day while their athletes compete. After the indoor competitions commence, outdoors begin in April, and run until August.
Fairley spent countless hours coaching and focusing on training programs during rowing season.
“She’d be on the water from April till August. They’d be on Silver Lake at 5:30 in the morning until about 8:30 a.m. seven days a week,” said Dover. “That’s just her time spent with the athlete, and then there’s the time spent preparing the training regimen or preparing the registries. It was basically a full-time job once she was on the water.”
Two of the athletes Fairley coached, Laura Fisher and Anna Ardiel, were awarded full scholarships at Duke University and the University of Louisville respectively based on their performance in rowing. Fairley had many other athletes go on to compete for Canadian schools such as McMaster University, Western University, and the University of Guelph.
Fairley found out she was receiving the award in April.
“It was a peer from an opposing club that nominated me,” said Fairley. “I was kind of shocked because our club has been in limbo.”
Fairley spoke about how she thinks the award should have been for the whole group in the club, because she couldn’t have been the head coach without the work put in from everyone else as well.
“Sue is far too humble,” said Dover. “She just lived for the smile on the kids’ faces, and the achievement of the athletes. That was her recognition.”