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Brienne Miller (NSRC) Wins Gold at World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals in Portugal

Katie Edwards, President of Row Nova Scotia

It’s wonderful when a plan comes together, and even better when a gold medal is involved.

Three years ago, at a meeting of the presidents of the Canadian provincial rowing associations, the idea of coastal rowing – a variant of rowing that uses larger, more stable boats that can handle rough water conditions – was introduced. It seemed like a good idea for provinces like Nova Scotia, with its endless stretches of rugged coastline.

In January of 2019, at the annual Rowing Canada Aviron conference, Row Nova Scotia declared its intention to lead the charge for coastal rowing by investing time and resources into developing the sport. By the fall of 2019, Row Nova Scotia had a solid plan to acquire a mobile fleet of coastal rowing shells that could be used at virtually any location in the province.

With coastal, Row Nova Scotia saw an opportunity to do what is less feasible with traditional, flat-water rowing: bring rowing to more communities that don’t have established clubs. The goal was to host events and introduce newcomers to rowing and, critically, to break down barriers and increase access to sport.

The opportunity to host a new type of regatta, one that’s fast-paced and terrifically exciting to spectators, was also appealing. Row Nova Scotia further envisaged local coaches becoming experts in coastal rowing, positioning themselves well for when coastal beach sprints are introduced to the Olympics in 2028.

And then – the pandemic. Despite not being able to host events in 2020, Row Nova Scotia doubled down on its commitment to acquire a fleet of coastal shells, applying for grants and working with Phil Monckton of LiteBoat, a manufacturer of coastal rowing shells. Monckton has proved an invaluable resource for Row NS as it began learning the ropes of this new type of rowing.

With generous support from Sport Nova Scotia and Support 4 Sport, Row Nova Scotia has been able to purchase five boats, seven sets of oars, a trailer, and safety equipment.

In partnership with AMP Rowing, a consultancy formed by current and former national team coaches (Michelle Darvill – the “M” of AMP – and her women’s 8+ won an Olympic gold this August in Tokyo), the coastal committee of Row NS worked in lockstep with the Lunenburg Rowing Club to host a Beach Sprints regatta on August 7th of this year, which was one of three national qualifying events for athletes hoping to compete at the 2021 World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals in Oeiras, Portugal.

The support of Peter Cookson (who squeezed in a visit to Nova Scotia between his two stints on the World Rowing Fairness Committee for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics) and Paul Beedling was invaluable. Their expertise in setting a beach sprints racecourse seamlessly intertwined with Nova Scotian hospitality and the superlative planning capabilities of board member Joan Backman, Row NS Technical Director Jenna Pelham Todd, Karen Kinley, Ian Creaser, and many others at the Lunenburg club.

The regatta was a resounding success: the races were fast and thrilling, and at day’s end, Brienne Miller and Emerson Crick, both of the North Star Rowing Club and the Nova Scotia Provincial Team and Antonia Chircop of Halifax Rowing Club had qualified for the next round of competition in Victoria, BC. Further, dozens more people got to try beach sprints for the first time, racing in a fun regatta after the morning’s national qualifying event.

In Victoria, Miller showed dominance once again, earning the right to represent Canada on the world stage. The rowing community in Nova Scotia was further excited when Jenna Pelham Todd was selected to coach the Canadian team in Portugal – only right after she’s done so much to develop the sport in Nova Scotia and beyond.

Yesterday, Brienne Miller capped off a phenomenal weekend of racing by beating her competitor from France in the final in a very close, diving-for-the-finish nail-biter, and becoming a world champion.

Her coach ran to congratulate her, and during their embrace, told her, “This hug is from all of Nova Scotia.”

This is an incredible result to cap off the first phase of our plans for coastal rowing in Nova Scotia. Brienne’s gold-medal performance was not a surprise to any of us at home – but we are so pleased that she got to show off years of her hard work on the world stage. This certainly injects a further note of excitement into all those working behind the scenes in Nova Scotia to make coastal a reality, and we’re keen to move into our next phase of development. Brienne is a phenomenal competitor, and we are extremely proud of her accomplishment.

If you want to get involved in flat water or coastal rowing, contact rowing@rowns.ca for more information.

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