Two Western Mustangs alumnae are part of the largest Canadian rowing team in 25 years, competing at the Tokyo Olympics, to be held July 23 to Aug. 8.
Just three years after starting at Western, Moffat won the 2014 Canadian University title in the lightweight single sculls, and was named the Canadian University Oarswoman of the Year. She then competed at the 2014 U23 World Championships in lightweight double sculls. In 2015, she advanced to the B final, and debuted with the senior national team in 2017, finishing fourth in the lightweight quad squalls at the World Rowing Championships. Moffatt teamed up with Jennifer Casson in the lightweight double sculls in 2018 for two World Cup stops, winning the B in Belgrade, Serbia and finishing fifth in the A final in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Coming from Bethany, Ont., Moffatt found Western to be a big place. Seeking friends and community, she tried out for the women’s rowing team.
“I never thought that I would be going to the Olympics back when I started,” Moffatt said from staging camp in Sagamihara before heading to Tokyo. “My love for it grew as it became obvious it was the type of sport that if you worked hard, you got better.”
As much as she fell for the sport itself, it was the culture of the Western team that kept her coming back.
“It was obvious right away they were proud to represent the school, with everyone working hard to put Western at the top. The team had fun, and I loved the sensation of working with like-minded people on the water,” Moffatt said.
What struck her most was the way her other teammates put the team’s goals ahead of their own.
“Sport is somewhat of a selfish pursuit,” she said. “You are trying to be the best you can be, but what I learned was how to do that with others, and that ability really helped me develop the soft skills I needed to make an Olympic boat.”
Toronto native and Komoka dentist Jen Martins didn’t know rowing was a sport when she first arrived at Western. But at the urging of a friend, the former provincial-level competitive swimmer tried out her second week of school in 2007 and never looked back.
In the fall of 2011, while studying at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Martins and her Western teammates earned two gold medals and a second-place overall finish at the Canadian University U23 women’s eight team. She joined the national team that same year, helping to set a world record and earn a gold at the World Rowing Championships.
She’s participated in several international competitions since, winning two bronze medals in the women’s eight event at the FISA World Championships in 2013 and 2015. In 2016, she rowed in the women’s pair and the women’s eight at the Rio Olympics. At the Tokyo Summer Games, Martins will be part of the first women’s four team to be included in the event since 1992.
In 2012, the Ontario University Athletics association recognized Martins with a Woman of Influence award for her athletic and academic success, and her volunteerism in teaching underprivileged children about water safety.
Martins credits Western’s rowing program as “one of the best in the country and for playing a huge part in shaping (her) both as a person and a student.”
Resilience for the win
Competitive sports is not only a test of one’s physical limits; it can also put a strain on an athlete’s mental resilience. In 2019, Moffatt moved to British Columbia to train. Away from family and friends, she faced increased anxiety while completing her master’s thesis remotely and heading into the competitive season.
“I hit a breaking point before the season took off,” she recently shared in an Instagram post. “Since joining the senior team after the Rio Olympics I noticed the more confident I grew, the more physical my symptoms of nerves became. It was like my body stopped listening to my brain, or my brain hid from me the micro stresses that were accumulating.”
Moffatt continued to hit personal bests and win races, but before selection trials she began experiencing panic attacks. At first, she thought she would have to forego the 2019 season, but with the help of her coaches, boyfriend and family, along with therapy and medication, she made it to the World Cup in Poznan, Poland. There, she made her first podium at a major international event, winning the lightweight single sculls.
She hopes being honest about her anxiety disorder on social media will encourage others to seek help and has found it to have a grounding effect for herself heading into the Games.
“It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the idea of the Olympics,” Moffatt said. “It’s the pinnacle of our sport and the build-up going in is so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Sharing my story has helped me keep things in perspective.”
Her attitude going into the games is to keep things simple.
“Our biggest goal as a crew is to have our racing in Tokyo be a celebration of all the hard work we have done. We want to make the most out of every stroke and put ourselves out there,” Moffatt said.
Much like what she learned from her peers at Western. “I really think my story and Jen’s [Martin] show how special and magic the Western Rowing experience is,” Moffatt said. “You’ll be catching us at alumni events ‘till we’re old and grey.”
Another Western alumni, Susanne Grainger, MA’15, is also rowing for Team Canada in the women’s eight event. A native of London, Ont., Grainger competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she and her team advanced to the A final, placing fifth.
For more on the Games, visit Western at the Tokyo Olympics.