Sarah Hagkull speaks to the rowing community at the Derby facility

Before the winter break, Marketing and Communications Director Chanelle Bertelsen sat down with Sarah Hagkull and Joanna Verano to recap the opening of Derby and the celebration of rowing. Such events are rooted in appreciation for our community, honouring individuals like alumni, donors, students, coaches, faculty, and staff who contribute to making SMUS a special place.

While this is the first of many events to come this year, during which we will be celebrating the arts and the sports community, let's hear from Sarah and Joanna.

C.B.: How did the Derby event contribute to fostering a sense of community within the rowing community?

Sarah Hagkull: This event symbolized a long-awaited reunion for our expansive SMUS Rowing family – an opportunity for past and present parents, athletes, alumni, and our community supporters to come together and celebrate the revitalization of our land training facility.

Witnessing the gathering of our community, alongside the presence of Rowing BC and the head coaches from UVic Women's and Men's teams, was truly inspiring and remarkable.

Whether you were a part of the original 2008-09 class or are currently on the team, the incredible impact that this program continues to have on every athlete who walks through the doors at Derby, is the common thread that connects us all.

C.B.: What were the key highlights or memorable moments from the event that stood out?

S.H.: At the event, Head of School Mark Turner set the tone by warmly welcoming our guests, setting the stage for an evening that celebrated the incredible journey of SMUS Rowing. One standout moment was the mention of Juliet Crowe's impactful article, a testament to the diverse talents within our student body.
The evening took an inspiring turn as Tina Yu, a proud 2013 alum, shared her transformative journey with SMUS Rowing. Her narrative illuminated how the program had not only shaped her life but also allowed her to witness her brother's growth within the same program, highlighting the enduring legacy of our community.

Susanne Walker Curry's nostalgic recollection of the program's humble beginnings in the Wenman Pavilion struck a chord. Her description of the team's evolution from limited resources to our current renovated space showcased the remarkable progress made over the years.

As part of the event, I had the privilege of sharing my personal story with SMUS Rowing. Despite the challenges I faced during high school, the rowing family became my sanctuary. My journey, which began in 2011 when I moved halfway across the world, was deeply intertwined with the guidance and support of Susanne Walker Curry. Her mentorship has been instrumental in shaping who I am today, transitioning from being her athlete to coaching alongside her today.

Greg Gilks' (Boathouse Manager) update on the Rowing Canada Electric Motor Project was a thrilling addition to the evening. The arrival of our electric motor (this week) marked a significant milestone for our team and reinforced our commitment to innovation within the sport.

Students training on machines in the newly renovated facility

The highlight, though, was seeing our current athletes crush it on the training machines. They brought so much dedication and talent to the table, really embodying what SMUS Rowing is all about. That performance stuck with everyone there, for sure.

Overall, the event was a tapestry of stories, reflections, and achievements, underscoring the profound impact of SMUS Rowing on individuals and the collective spirit that propels us forward.

C.B.: How has the rowing community responded to the changes and improvements made possible by the donations received?

S.H.: The response from the rowing community to the changes and improvements brought about by the donations has been overwhelmingly positive! Our program is absolutely thrilled with the transformations that have taken place. It's amazing how something as simple as replacing carpet with hardwood and a fresh coat of paint has completely revitalized the space.

The athletes have been buzzing with motivation, and our coaching staff noticed the immediate impact. Their energy and drive have skyrocketed since these changes, which is incredible to witness.

What's truly exciting is that many of our athletes had no clue these improvements were in the works. The surprise of stepping into a revamped space to kick off the new season was a fantastic morale booster for everyone involved.

It is not just about the physical changes either. 2021 alum, Meg Sheehan generously donated her time and creativity to add some inspirational phrases and quotes that our coaches often use. These little touches have added an extra layer of motivation and positivity to the environment.

I am looking forward to finalizing an update piece to share with our broader community in the coming weeks. It's going to be fantastic to showcase the incredible impact these donations can have on programs at our school!

C.B.: How instrumental were the donors in bringing about these facility updates?

Joanna Verano: We are so grateful to all the donors who have supported SMUS’s rowing program over the years. Donations provide the financial support necessary to continually improve and sustain the infrastructure and resources vital for the continued growth and development of the program. Upgraded facilities can attract talented athletes and coaches, potentially elevating the competitiveness and reputation of the rowing program. This, in turn, might lead to increased success in competitions, further showcasing the school's excellence.