Podium shot of 2019 CSSRA champion E. L. Crossley senior women’s eight. BSBN

High school rowing season lost to COVID-19

Friday, June 5 should have marked the first day of racing in the 75th Annual Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association championships on Martindale Pond.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the regatta and left athletes like E. L. Crossley coxie Lauren Dudzik missing an event that typically culminates a year of hard work on and off the water.

To take her mind off what might have been, the 2019 CSSRA champion in senior women’s open eight, has picked up some extra shifts at Sobeys in Fonthill last weekend. Instead of rowing, she was working from 7 AM to 4 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Lauren Dudzik. SUPPLIED

The 17-year-old Fonthill resident joked that her father didn’t help matters because he sent her a Facebook memory from three years ago that showed her winning a CSSRA gold in the senior women’s 72-kilogram eight before she became a coxie.

“He told me it was one of his proudest moments of me and I said, ‘Thanks, if I wasn’t sad enough already,’” Dudzik said with a laugh.

Like her peers, the 2019 Stotesbury Cup champion in the senior women’s coxed four has lived through a series of disappointments since the world came to a halt in March.

“When I found out that we were going to be off school for three weeks, I was already heartbroken,” she said. “I was wondering what I was going to do without rowing because that is my therapy. I would literally be upset over school, go to rowing and come home happy because it was my therapy and made me happy. Rowing is a little stressful but coxing makes me happy.”

Dudzik started rowing when she was 12 with the South Niagara Rowing Club’s Learn to Row program and took to the sport immediately.

“It was love at first sight,” she said. “I was always an athletic kid but I wasn’t gung-ho about competing. I always tried different things but they were just never my thing.”

That changed with rowing.

“The first race I was in it was horrible but the second race we got gold and I was like, ‘This is it when you finally get what you’ve earned and it all pays off.’”

Crossley’s highly decorated rowing program was the perfect place for her to pursue her rowing dreams.

“Number one, it is everyone’s determination and they join that team to be a part of it,” she said. “No one sees the side of it about how many people join and how many people drop it because not everyone is cut out for it. It is not everyone’s sport because you are going to be killing yourself almost 24/7. I like to describe rowing as rowing yourself into a wall for eight minutes because that is basically what a race is.”

Crossley’s rowers train six days a week for the entire school year under the leadership of head coach John Ruscitti, a stern but motivating taskmaster.

“Some days, you think he is pushing you a little too hard but he cares about you and the well-being of the team, and he wants everyone to do well,” Dudzuk said.

Ruscitti is all about his athletes.

“It’s not about him having all these titles and his boats won those races, but he wants you to feel accomplished for how hard you worked,” she said. “Everyone works hard every day practising on that course.”

With her online schooling ending this week, Dudzik is looking forward to her next steps.

“I thought about looking at an American scholarship for a coxie but after taking the SATs, I decided I didn’t really want to go to the States,” she said. “It wasn’t a dream for me and I did want to stay close to home.”

She toured Western, McMaster, UOIT, Guelph, Waterloo and Queens before deciding on Western to pursue a degree in engineering.

“When I went to Western for its open house, it felt like home and it felt like it is where I was supposed to be,” she said. “Everyone was so nice and so kind and luckily I got a chance to meet the rowing team and everyone was very welcoming.

“I wasn’t necessarily shooting for a school that had a rowing team but it had to be good luck that they did.”

She hopes when the pandemic ends, she will be coxing Western crews first across the finish line.

 

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