Firinne Rolfe is a highly sought-after student athlete, having received three full-ride scholarship offers worth more than $1.2 million to study and row at American universities.

The Grade 12 student, who graduates in June, this week signed paperwork and committed to attending and rowing for Northeastern University in Boston, Mass.

“I’m so excited to get to be in such a competitive environment and have people constantly pushing me to improve,” she says. “I’m really excited for the academics, too. I want to have an amazing athletic experience, but my No. 1 priority [in choosing a school] was finding somewhere that was academically rigorous.” Firinne will pursue a combined major in sociology and political science, and adds she was drawn to Northeasten’s well-established co-op program.

'I couldn't imagine not rowing'

Firinne began rowing at SMUS in Grade 9. By the end of her Grade 10 year, she had earned three medals – two silvers and a bronze – from the national Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association Championships in three different team events. It was around that time that coach Liz Fenje ’09 suggested she consider pursuing rowing at the post-secondary level. (Liz rowed for Stanford University after graduating from SMUS.)

“I had a feeling back in Grade 9 watching her that this could be something that could happen,” adds SMUS Head of Rowing Susanne Walker Curry, referring not only to Firinne’s ability to row in university, but also her three full-ride scholarship offers.

“She is such a modest and humble student who is very involved in all areas of our school. She is an all-rounder in every sense of the word. So many younger rowers look up to her because she is more concerned about supporting those around her than her own successes,” Susanne says. “As a rower, she has an incredible work ethic and she’s a powerhouse, a force to be reckoned with. And because of that work ethic, she has been rewarded with these phenomenal opportunities.”

As Firinne started researching schools and contacting university rowing coaches during her Grade 11 year, she wasn’t even sure it was the path she would choose. She was also considering a study abroad program for her Grade 12 year, which could have put an end to her rowing career.

“I had two paths and I was having a hard time deciding. But I went with my gut; I couldn’t imagine not rowing, and as soon as I made that decision I was so happy,” Firinne says. “I love rowing; I love the community and the fitness aspect of the sport, and the feeling of being out on the water when I get into a rhythm and an almost meditative state of mind. You get addicted to rowing.”

University-Calibre Athlete

When the pandemic hit, it meant that Firinne – like all students – could no longer visit universities. That meant a lot of online conversations with coaches, fellow athletes and schools to get a sense of what studying and rowing at these schools would be like.

She was ultimately offered scholarships to row in Boston, San Diego and Washington, DC.

As she now has certainty around where she’ll be come September, Firinne says her focus is fully on her academics and training for (hopefully) a spring season.

“It’s helpful knowing that I have a really competitive experience coming after high school so I want to keep my training up. Whether we’re rowing competitively in the spring or if it’s not until next fall, I’m going to continue making sure I’m improving and ready to go on the first day,” Firinne says.

Adds Susanne: “I’m honoured to get to work with athletes like Firinne and see them get recognized in this way; when universities see what I get to see. She is a great ambassador for our school and our rowing program, and I’m so excited to see what the future holds for her.”

Firinne says she feels that this is proof that hard work and trusting her gut pay off.

“All my life I’ve made decisions based on what I enjoy, and it’s a reminder that at the end of the day you should be doing what you enjoy,” she says. “For the rest of my life, as I make decisions for what I want to do as a career and in university, if I’m going to work hard at something I want to pursue opportunities I’ll enjoy.”