“It was phenomenal,” Katrina Tarrant says about her first day with the Creston Valley Ospreys Rowing Club. “I was definitely a little nervous but the people were so welcoming. I felt like that’s where I belonged.”
That first time on the water came when she was 14. Now, four years later and about to turn 18, Tarrant has parlayed her passion for rowing into a four-year full-ride scholarship at Washington State University (WSU).
At six-foot-one and with the broad shoulders of the competitive swimmer she has been since the age of five, Tarrant’s physique and competitive nature make her a natural for a sport that requires endurance, technique and discipline. But coaching is what takes any athlete to higher levels and she credits Creston rowing guru Milan Uremovic with her rise in the sport.
“I owe him my success,” she says succinctly.
Tarrant says Uremovic, a former coach of Olympic-calibre and university athletes, was responsible, without her knowing at the time, for luring her into the sport.
“He came to [Prince Charles Secondary] School to give a presentation about the rowing club and he noticed me,” she recalls. “He told some of the boys in the club that they should convince me to come out.”
Tarrant returned last week from nine days in Mexico City, where she was part of a 25-rower Canadian team participating in the CanAmMex 2012 competition for young rowers. Rowers spent a week in training and instruction before ending with two days of racing.
“I was put into sweeping, something I hadn’t practiced much,” she says, referring to rowing with one oar instead of two, which she was more used to in sculling.
In her first race, with four rowers per boat, her team won by a couple of millimetres — the race was so close the teams didn’t know who had won until they were called up to the podium for presentation of medals. Tarrant’s group of Canadian rowers bested two other teams in that race.
“It was overwhelming,” she says with a smile. “My first medal in rowing and wearing a Canadian rowing suit with a maple leaf — it was wonderful!”
The following day she rowed in the sweeping eights.
“We went in with high expectations because we had been doing well in practice,” she says.
The teammates didn’t let themselves or their coaches down. They won with six seconds of open water between them and the runner-up, a large margin.
“We had a huge group hug at the end!”
To qualify for the Mexico City competition and the chance to compete against American and Mexican athletes, Canadian rowers went through a series of tests on a rowing machine designed to measure aspects of their strength and technique in two- and six-kilometre distances and a one-hour period. Tarrant ranked eighth of the 44 young women her age.
“The top performers were invited to Mexico City to represent Canada,” she says.
Tarrant was a competitive swimmer at the age of 5 and starred in volleyball and basketball at PCSS. Why the fascination with rowing?
“I honestly can’t say exactly what I like about it, but I feel that’s where I belong,” she says. “My body might be aching and my legs might be going numb, but I never want to quit — I love it!”
When she started out with the rowing club she practiced six days a week for two hours each day. That was in addition to cross-training and playing volleyball and basketball.
“It’s taken up a lot of my time,” she admits, and directs the conversation back to Uremovic.
“Milan is so well known in the rowing community. He says a word and everyone pays attention.”
Uremovic’s connections in the rowing world led to the scholarship. He coached WSU coach Jane Lariviere in Calgary and Tarrant recently learned that he has been promoting her to Lariviere since she was 14.
Tarrant put her rowing resume up on the Becruited.com web site earlier this year and drew interest from Michigan State University and the University of California at Los Angeles, along with the University of Victoria, as well as WSU.
“I visited WSU and I loved everything — the state, the campus, Cougars coach Jane Lariviere,” she says. “I’m really happy with my decision. And Jane is a Canadian who got her start in rowing in Calgary.”
Attending university means keeping her marks up (her primary interest in her freshman year is zoology), rowing and living independent of her parents (PCSS principal Sharen Popoff and retired RCMP officer Don Tarrant) for the first time. It will take some adjusting, she admits.
“It will definitely involve some time management,” she says. “But I know this will lead to more opportunities to row in Canada.”
Tarrant is considerably younger than most world-class rowers, but she doesn’t deny she has her eye on the Olympics, perhaps in 2016 or 2020.
“I’m really just taking the first steps — next year I’ll try out for the Canadian national junior rowing team.”
Eventually she would like to become a rowing coach at the university level and to pursue studies in marine biology. In the shorter term, she hopes to return to Creston in the summers to work at the community complex and help out coaching the Ospreys.
“The transition to university will be difficult, but in a good way,” she says brightly. “I’ve travelled a lot with my family. But I’m ready to leave. I want to get out and try things on my own.”