Rowing to Greatness
Posted: October 2, 2012
It’s hard to believe that all the success Old Boy Peter McClelland ’02 had in the sport of rowing may never have happened if he hadn’t been hit by a drunk driver when he was in grade 11 at St. Andrew’s.
Before the accident, Peter had been an outstanding athlete who played football, lacrosse, and hockey. He was also a dedicated cross-country runner, averaging 80 to 90 km each week, and was hoping to secure a running scholarship at a U.S. university.
Those plans were irrevocably altered on the fateful day when Peter was run down.
“It changed the direction of my life,” said Peter, when he addressed the entire School on September 28, as part of a school-wide assembly surrounding the 2012-13 Prefect’s theme, ‘Pursue Greatness’. “I had a broken femur and it took me months to recover. When I finally got up to speed with my running, I came to the realization that although I was a good runner, I would never be a great runner.”
Peter, who was a Prefect in his final year, realized that the running scholarship was unlikely to happen. Instead, he enrolled at Western University and discovered a passion for rowing.
He made Western’s rowing crew, and his commitment to the sport was obvious to everyone. Recognition of his skill and ability came early when he was named ‘Oarsman of the Year’ by the Canadian University Rowing Association in 2006. Later that year, he and his teammates came in first in the Men’s eight competition at the Commonwealth Championships in Scotland.
“I set a goal for myself when I got into rowing that I would try to make the Olympics in 2012,” said Peter, recalling the early days when he discovered just how much rowing meant to him. Like cross-country running it pushed him to the limit, testing his endurance and strength.
Peter and his teammates flew to England in 2008 for the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place on the River Thames and features crews from around the world. His crew won the Men’s eight race and was awarded the Temple Challenge Cup (the only Canadian crew to win in the 22 years the cup has been awarded). Peter’s talent was again recognized that same year when he was named Western’s Athlete of the Year.
It was quite an honour, but the best was yet to come. After graduating from Western in 2009 with a master’s degree in kinesiology, Peter headed to England to study business management at the University of Cambridge, where he was chosen for the Men’s eight rowing team.
He was now part of a crew that would be training for one of the oldest races in England, the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race. Covering a 6.8 km stretch of the River Thames, the race has been run since 1829 and is one of the most celebrated in the sport of rowing. Men’s eight crews from Oxford University and Cambridge University compete in the event.
With close to a quarter of a million people lining the banks of the Thames (and an estimated 50 million watching on TV), Peter and his crew rowed their way to victory for Cambridge. It was an exhilarating moment, the culmination of a full year of exhaustive training.
Upon graduating from Cambridge, Peter returned to Canada to fulfill his earlier ambition to make Canada’s national Men’s eight rowing team and compete in the 2012 Olympics. He made the National Team in 2010, and began training in Victoria, B.C., in all kinds of adverse weather conditions.
In 2011, Peter competed for the National Team in the Pan Am Games, winning a bronze medal in Men’s pairs, and clinched a silver medal with his crew in the Men’s eight. His rowing success was continuing unabated, and the Olympics were fast approaching.
“Then six weeks before the Olympics the coaches pulled me out of the boat,” recalled Peter. “I didn’t agree with their decision; after putting my heart and soul into rowing for 10 years my dream of going to the Olympics was over.”
Peter did get to go to London this past summer, but as a spare, ready to step into the boat to replace an injured or ill teammate. As in any sport, the character of an athlete is reflected in how they deal with both wins and losses. Peter has come to terms with his disappointment, realizing what really matters.
“Not being able to compete was a difficult time for sure,” recalled Peter, “but you have to look at it from another perspective. You have to set goals for yourself that are just out of reach, and put absolutely everything you have into achieving them. Be proud of your achievements and never give up. SAC is the perfect place to learn how to do that, with access to the best facilities, tools, teachers, and coaches. ”
Peter’s winning attitude shows the drive and determination of a true athlete. With the disappointment of the Olympics behind him, he recently won a bronze medal in Men’s pairs at the World Rowing Championships in Bulgaria.
Once again, Peter is right where he wants to be: with other like-minded athletes focused on winning.
Story by Lorne Chase