There’s more of a feeling of family attached to her second induction into a Canadian sports hall of fame for Jennifer Walinga
Walinga, head of communications and culture at Royal Roads University, was named last month to Rowing Canada Aviron’s Hall of Fame, along with a host of other rowers who participated in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. While she said being inducted to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame was a significant honour, the Rowing Canada induction has a different kind of special meaning.
“When I got the Saturday morning call [several years ago] that I’d been inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame it was quite a shock and pretty cool,” she said. “Because the rowing community is such a tight-knit group, being recognized by Rowing Canada is more like an acknowledgement from your family.”
Walinga, who joined RRU in 2000 and started her current position in 2008, was first drawn to rowing in Peterborough, Ontario when she was 15. “I had Carol Love as a coach,” she said.
“I learned from the best right from the beginning. She was an inspiration and a role model, and I wound up rowing with her club when I was 18.”
Walinga was slated to compete in the stroke position in the women’s coxed eights and the women’s coxless fours in Barcelona, but injured her back trying a new type of oar. “My back was better by the time the heats started, but not 100 per cent. It was an easy decision to withdraw because I didn’t want to jeopardize the team.” She was also confident that her replacement in the eights, Kay Worthington, was up to the task. “Our coach, Shannon Corley had prepared us really well to where we were a totally cohesive crew. They won by a lot, that eights team was unstoppable.”
The plan coach Al Morrow had prepared leading up to the Olympics that included input from the rowers played a huge role in their success, Walinga explained. “We were committed and felt like we could endure anything because we were so well prepared.”
Brenda Taylor replaced Walinga in the fours, and the team finished with a gold medal in that event as well. “Brenda and I go way back,” Walinga said.
“We were in Victoria a few weeks after the Olympics for a wedding and Brenda said you forgot something. I thought it was a shirt or something, and she hands me one of her gold medals. I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted it was something I needed to share.”
Walinga has made a point of doing just that, showing the medal to scores of athletes and students of all ages ever since. “No matter what age, kids love medals,” she said with a smile. She’s looking forward to seeing Taylor, Marnie McBean, other friends and fellow Olympians from the rowing community at the Rowing Canada induction ceremony later this month. Walinga, who used to row at Royal Roads, is still heavily involved in the sport. She coaches the rowing team at Oak Bay High School, and coached at St. Michael’s University for a number of years. Walinga also coaches with former Olympian Dave Calder at the Gorge Rowing Club. “I still race with a few of my teammates as well,” she said, adding that the team will compete in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston next year.
“There’s a strong connection and involvement with former Olympians and national team coaches in this area that bodes well for the future of the sport,” she noted. “It says a lot about rowers. They give back, they’re humble and they don’t need a huge title to stay involved.”