Ottawa Rowing Club athletes follow parallel paths to first international competition

© Merijn Soeters -

Ottawa Rowing Club product Alex Bernst (right) wore the maple leaf for the first time at the 2018 U23 Rowing World Championships. Photo: Rowing Canada / Merijn Soeters.

By Brendan Shykora

Seven years ago, Louise Munro and Alex Bernst arrived separately at the Ottawa Rowing Club as novices in the sport. Now close friends at 21 years old, they cheered each other on at the 2018 Under-23 World Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland.

“It was pretty awesome to have one of your best friends at an international regatta supporting you,” Munro said.

For both rowers it was the first time competing internationally, and getting acclimated took some time. More used to domestic regattas with known competition, Munro noted the unfamiliarity of her surroundings at the start of her first race:

“I got up to the start line and looked left and right and didn’t recognize anyone, So I had no prior knowledge as to how their crews raced. But I felt that was a very cool experience,” she said.

By the end of the regatta from July 25-28, Munro had found her bearings. She placed 5th overall in the women’s quadruple sculls along with crew members Marilou Duvernay Tardif, Hayley Chase, Grace VandenBroek.

“We were a fairly young crew,” said Munro, the oldest in her boat at 21. “So, we were happy to place where we placed, and our racing got better throughout the week.”


Alex Bernst and Louise Munro at the 2018 Under-23 World Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland. Photo supplied.

On the men’s side, Bernst placed 13th overall in the highly competitive lightweight double sculls category with partner Vlad Timinsky of Vancouver, B.C. Though it was a strong first outing on international waters, Bernst was hoping for a better result.

“We thought we would have been closer to a Top 10 crew but just throughout the regatta we had some trouble with our performance.”

Final rankings aside, Bernst says Poland was a memorable moment in his rowing career:

“It was cool to be a part of something you read about, and one of those things you don’t think you’ll ever be a part of until you take that step and make it happen.”

Now that they’ve gotten their feet wet at the international level, Munro and Bernst have an idea of what they’ll be facing come next year’s championships.

“I couldn’t really visualize it until I was actually there witnessing it and being a part of it,” Bernst said. “The standard for under-23 racing is very, very high, and that’s something I’m thinking about and getting ready for next year.”

ORC to Queen’s

Bernst and Munro have steered a near identical stream since becoming rowers. Both joined the junior program at the Ottawa Rowing Club in Grade 9, and both later joined Queen’s University’s successful small-boat system. Both have national regatta accolades to their name and made their international debuts at the same time.

Both rowers also credit their home club for getting them to where they are now.

“I don’t think I would be able to train and perform at this level had I not been a part of that group,” Bernst underlined.

“The coaches I had at the Ottawa Rowing Club shaped me not only as an athlete, I’ve grown so much as an individual because of them,” added Munro. “I think they’re a big part of why I kept wanting more.”

That said, the two also put in the hours needed to get to the world stage. Their peak competitive days at the ORC involved 5 a.m. training sessions six times per week, with one or two weight training sessions added on. At Queen’s University, daily morning workouts ranged from 6-12 km on the water.

What made the training easier over the years was the support they received from volunteer coaches at the club who still keep in touch with the two athletes even now that their days there are over.

“Really what was exceptional about the Ottawa Rowing Club was the atmosphere and the team environment,” Bernst said.

“It’s been an amazing program ever since I stepped foot in there, it’s definitely my second home,” added Munro.

After the Championships, the final big event of the summer was the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, held in St. Catharines, ON. Bernst was part of the eight-man boat that won the final event of the regatta on August 12. The club’s boats won eight gold medals in total at that regatta.

Ottawa Rowing Club boats showed well at provincials earlier this summer. Athletes from the club won five gold, three silver and three bronze medals at the RowOntario Championships in July.

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