As the sun peeks over the horizon on a morning cool enough to see your own breath, long, narrow boats are slid into the water and practice begins. At five a.m., a time when most U of T students are curled up in bed, cramming for tests or stumbling home from a night out, the rowers fight the evil grasp of sleep deprivation in the name of the sport they love.

All the baggy eyes and early wake-up calls were vindicated last week when the rowing team capped off a successful season with a strong showing at the OUA championships at the Henley Course in St. Catherines. In duels that rower Caroline Hazell called “our two best races of the year” the women won a silver medal in the fours, avenging a previous loss to Western. In the eights, they pulled their way to a gold-medal after a “really, really close race with Queen’s.”

On the men’s side, Kiran van Rijn said it had been “an up and down season,” evident when the team claimed the gold in the single event but had to settle for bronze in the men’s doubles. With a tone of obvious disappointment, van Rijn said “for the double, we hadn’t practiced a huge amount together, so that cost us a bit.”

The season, of course, was not limited to the playoffs. This year, several boats from the men’s and women’s teams traveled to various regattas around the world, including stops in Taiwan, Philadelphia and Boston. Competing with renowned crews such as Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Sydney, U of T held their own despite the shoestring budget that smaller sports incur. Asked about the differences between U of T and those top rowing schools, van Rijn said this isn’t a university where people come specifically to row. “The school attracts people with academic priorities, while other universities are able to attract athletes.”

Nonetheless, both mens and women’s teams look forward to strong showings next year, with most veterans returning to water. Coaching is also a major strength.

“Anyone who could get up at that time of the morning six days a week and help us out essentially on a volunteer basis really makes a difference,” said van Rijn.

While they will be hitting the weights and rowing machines of the AC, both crews will look towards next season: an opportunity to improve on this year’s results, a chance to travel the world again, and, oh yeah, the pleasure of consistently waking up before the break of dawn.

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