Senior Boys rowing quad at the CSSRA Nationals

I was 15 years old when I found myself trembling in a rowboat 2,000 miles away from home. Better yet, I was a 238-lb., corn-fed Texan, now sitting upright and shell-shocked, in the bow seat of a rowing shell in the Pacific Ocean. Just three months prior, I was a ranch hand in a rural Texas town of 400. 

St. Michaels University School (SMUS), on the West Coast of Canada, had accepted me into its program for Grade 10. That’s when my world changed: I came to SMUS hungry for improvement. I wanted to learn, meet new people, and improve my athletic abilities. I had promised myself a challenge, so I tried out for the school rowing team.

During my tryouts for the rowing crew, we swam in the middle of what my Texan eyes perceived as an ocean surrounded by tundra. Our Navy Seal of a Head Coach, Susanne Walker Curry, instructed us to jump in, swim 100 metres, and tread water for four minutes. I barely even knew what a metre was, let alone it was spelled differently in Canada—and it was only my second day in the country!

My teeth chattered as I dipped my toes into the water. Our commanding officer shouted, “Go!” and I heard an involuntary, “Yes ma’am!” squeak from my lump-filled larynx.

I dove in.

As soon as I broke the water’s surface, I realized I had to act: each doggy paddle seemed to move me in slow motion. I disregarded a Grade 9 student’s “shiver-me-timbers!” quip and realized I was, quite literally, out of my element. Finally, a teammate extended a hand, and, with a sturdy grip, pulled me out of the frigid water and hoisted me back up. I rolled onto the middle of the rocking wooden dock. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of my journey of becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Being raised in the southern U.S., I knew hard work, and wasn’t afraid of it. However, I quickly realized that the ‘hard work’ I was used to was quite different from what it meant in the rowing world. But, under Coach Walker Curry’s whip-cracking mastery, supported by Assistant Coach Sarah Hagkull’s (‘16)  unwavering confidence in her own untapped potential, I quickly learned what it would take to get me to that ‘next-level’ success—which, I can truly say, when I finally reached it, seldom have I felt more proud.

I had promised myself a challenge. 

After a few weeks  of rowing practice, it only seemed fitting to assign new headings in my calendar replacing the typical ‘days of the week.’ I typed in: ‘Land or Water Training.’

On the front lines

Our team’s land training was akin to an ancient form of corporal punishment; even though we would  yank the oars with all our might, it was as though we failed to make any visible ripples. During my early SMUS water-training days, I would quiver more from fear than from the frigid cold! 

The Novice Eight, as we were, was the place where piano virtuosos, physics phenoms, and me, one particularly hefty southern boy, really got down to making waves on campus. In the Eight, we appeared to move more laterally than backwards and forwards. In the end, the stultifying nature of rowing resulted in everyone in that boat quitting. All except for me. Come hell, or high water (and hail, no less), rowing had become a non-negotiable.

I had promised myself a challenge.

Two years later, due to an unwavering work ethic and a boatload of luck, my crew and I realized how very fortunate we were.  After seven months of rowing, I even lost 70 pounds. Soon after, I won the 2020 Monster Erg Regatta, an annual erging (rowing machine) race held over Super Bowl weekend, in 2020. Then-host, the University of Victoria, ranked me as the number-one novice rower on Vancouver Island.

Senior Eight Rowing team at the Nationals

Team to beat

Solo rowing aside, my time at SMUS taught me that the sweetest victories are won as a team. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, our practice schedule was not altered; we would still row seven times a week for a minimum of 14 hours, because we knew that medals are earned in winter training. Coach Walker Curry would continually remind us with her team tenet, “less talky-talky, more worky-worky!” 

We became battle-hardened. Our eight would win the first ever Men’s Novice 8+ race at the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association (CSSRA) National Regatta in St. Catharines, Ont.

Granted, such accomplishments were admirable, albeit short-lived. However, the process leading up to these achievements changed me forever. I learned to find joy in seeing incremental improvements in my life and in the art of striving for progression, rather than perfection. Furthermore, I noticed that keeping my promises and working as hard as possible earned me a wealth of self-respect. The latter is accompanied by a newfound mental toughness and a sense of calm confidence.

Kindness is King

Most importantly, I learned that kindness is derived from integrity. And, much like the attitude in the boat, kindness is contagious—even as much as a global virus!

Early on, in my SMUS rowing adventure, just the mere act of walking upstairs to class each day seemed like a daunting task. Add oar-pulling to the mix? I was a sweaty mess. Who knew I would soon be able to cultivate an ability to resist impulses and let them pass by like a bad stroke in the Eight.

Accepting challenges with energized tranquility and ferocious commitment to the task at hand became my new default; I began to value moments of focus behind a sea-length backdrop of distraction. As a particularly hefty 15-year-old, in a world full of twerps and phone tweets (not to mention the never-ending chocolate milk in the dining hall), rowing was exactly what I needed.

I had promised myself a challenge. Promise kept. 

Diego D'Lorm  hung up his SMUS Rowing team oars and graduated in 2022. Originally from Texas, before coming to Canada, he was a competitive weightlifter. After graduation, he took a term off before starting med school in Australia.

Shout Out from Diego to SMUS Students:

"Wishing you a transformative year ahead. Born and raised in Texas, I'm Diego D’Lorm, a proud member of the SMUS Class of 2022. It was at SMUS that I was steered toward my current journey at Griffith University on the Gold Coast, Australia, partaking in a program that bridges the Bachelor of Medical Science directly to Doctor of Medicine. As I explore medicine on the Gold Coast's shores, I'm reminded of the pivotal role SMUS has played in my path. VIVAT."