Row Ontario is not looking to reinvent the wheel - nor the oars, by the signs of things.
With the announcement of the opening of the Ontario Performance Centre in Welland, beginning in the fall of 2020, the provincial sport governing body has tapped into both their own experience, with similar set-ups, as well as some parallel offerings.
"It's a similar idea to what other sports have done, this is not a new concept," noted Laurentian University professor and rowing coach Amanda Schweinbenz, who was named to lead the Ontario Academy of Rowing, part and parcel of this new project.
"Chris Marshall (Row Ontario High Performance Manager) saw a need to develop a space and a place where developing athletes could go to prepare for the next step, before the national team. We've learned from previous experiences - we never quite did it this way before."
"It's super exciting to be part of this new initiative and working within this process."
The timing could not have been better. The repercussions of the pandemic, from an academic standpoint, combined with a built-in secondment for the LU doctor aligned perfectly with this new opportunity.
"It worked out a bit serendipitously, because in any other year, I would have been unavailable to do this," explained Schweinbenz. "But this year, we are teaching remotely at Laurentian, and come January, I am on sabbatical."
"I can go to Welland, help to get this center started, get the academy started, and develop it in this year with Covid and the sabbatical."
Where some sports have seen an influx of private businesses looking to promote a guaranteed pathway to the elite level of their sport, Schweinbenz stressed that this new undertaking remains a not-for-profit venture, administered under the auspices of Row Ontario.
Young rowers who are accepted into the program will be selected based on their ultimate potential to be among those athletes deemed worthy of potential national team selection, not simply based on their ability to foot the bill.
Looking at far more of a year-round approach than what has been offered in the past, Schweinbenz believes that the new Academy of Rowing will be a key interim step in helping high-school and university rowers reach their ultimate goal.
"It's a big step to go from club or university on to the national team," said Schweibenz. "The number of kilometres that we do pales by comparison to the national team. Many athletes are not physically prepared, they are not mentally prepared, and they don't really know the processes and the steps that they need to be able to make to move to the national team."
"This is about creating a space where athletes who are interested in high performance, who want to be on the national team, can train at the level necessary to help them be successful - if they are willing to do that."
Ironically, part of the appeal in bringing Schweinbenz, the current provincial team head coach, into the mix, lies in the approach that she already utilizes in working with young men and women at the Sudbury Rowing Club.
"In some ways, it's not significantly different from what I do here," she said, though the intensity and distance covered in workouts will be amplified several times over. "But the focus is still on singles, which allows you to be able to develop your skills, to learn to row independently."
"And we wanted to make sure that the coach who is working at the center would not be going away to work with the national team, leaving the athletes they are working with for two to three months."
Though the OUA rowing season has been cancelled due to Covid-19, the Voyageurs varsity rowers will continue to train, with Schweinbenz providing assistance remotely, and a remaining coach handling the more hands on oversight locally.
To be clear, Schweinbenz fully expects to return, full-time, to L.U. in the fall of 2021. "I am happy as a professor at Laurentian," she said. "I am not looking to make this a springboard to a national team position."
"I am focused on getting this up and running, making sure it's the most successful that it can possibly be. That is my total focus."