In the dim morning light, two fleets of athletes left Varsity Stadium on Saturday, October 14. One bus left at 4:45, the other at a much more reasonable 5:15 am — both headed to Henley Island, one of the most famous racing courses in Canada, to compete in the Brock Invitational Regatta.

Upon arrival, the team quickly unloaded the trailer, stacked high with slim boats, and began to re-rig the boats to be used the soonest. Around 7:00 am, it was time for the lightweight rowers to weigh in. Lightweight rowers must be below 72.5 kilograms for men and 59 kilograms for women.

Athletes stripped down to their racing gear, shedding layers of spandex and fleece, to be measured and stamped with their weight. Coxswains — diminutive but deceptively loud — were also weighed in. They must be over 50 kilograms for women’s boats and 55 kilograms for men’s. After the weighing-in, the races began in earnest.

The Blues’ first race of the day was the men’s lightweight double, which took off around 8:00 am. Things moved quickly from there, as athletes darted in and out of the tented U of T area while preparing for their races. Those who weren’t scheduled until later in the day studied together on tarps laid over the muddy ground, hunched over textbooks with subjects ranging from calculus to Middle Eastern politics. Others watched races unfold from the river banks, cheering for teammates as they zipped by. After their races, athletes carried their boats and oars back from the dock and huddled up together to debrief, usually with a bottle of water or a bagel in hand.

Most novice rowers had only really been rowing since the first week of September. For them, Brock was a milestone — they completed their first two-kilometre races, visited Henley for the first time, and caught their first crabs in Martindale Pond.

Highlights of the day included the Blues women’s team, slotted around 11:00 am, having a rough race due to technical issues but pushing through to the finish; the novice Blues men, who raced later in the afternoon, coming second overall to McGill University; and the best performance of the day — the women’s lightweight double team, who easily took first place in their race.

Brock was an important learning experience, a good way to measure progress, and an opportunity to prepare for the more important race coming up in two weeks: the OUA Championship, also held at Henley. After Brock, crews broke down their strategies and analyzed their performances, looking for ways to improve in time for the OUAs.

Hopefully, the Blues can build on this momentum going forward and perform well in the OUA Championship at the end of the month.