Victoria's prestigious Brown Cup: More than a rowing race
To the outsider, rowing appears graceful and genteel. For the insider, it is about grit, mentally destroying your opponent, while pushing through pain and working with absolute precision.
No regatta in Canada reveals the essence of the sport more than the annual Brown Cup, a duel between University of Victoria and University of British Columbia Varsity teams held this past weekend.
"It’s a match race and it’s simply a case of land body blows, try to knock out your competition. Just that instinct in terms of our training that’s done over six months leading to this race, fortifying yourself, pushing hard every single stroke knowing that if you break your opposition, you win the race," said Barney Williams, Head Coach of UVic’s women’s rowing team.
Because there are only two teams, there is no second place.
"There’s one winner, one loser," added Williams.
Any rowing competition requires physical and mental strength, but most races are two kilometres long, and straight. To win the Brown Cup, teams must row 3.5 brutal kilometres along the curvy waterway from the Gorge Narrows to the Inner Harbour.
"These guys are hurting about two and a half minutes in," said UVic’s men’s coach, Aalbert Van Schothorst.
"They call it the pain cave and it’s really over to whichever crew that can tolerate the pain, then keep the length, rhythm and poise. It’s a combination of poise and elegance and just brute force," he added.
The universities have raced every year since 1991. Known as having two of the best rowing programs in the country, the rivalry is deep and intense.
"There’s no love lost, they go back, way, way back, Thunderbirds and Vikes, every pitch that we know of, but this right now is the biggest race for both these two programs," said Williams.
The winners are immortalized in Canadian rowing history, their names engraved on the gold plated trophy.
"When you watch it glisten in the sunlight, that’s real, that’s not fake," said Van Schothorst
It’s a race steeped in tradition, considered the Canadian version of the famed Oxford versus Cambridge race.
For the team crossing the finish line first, claiming victory, as UVic’s women’s team did this year, it means something.
"I love the fact that it’s just you and another crew and it’s just everything you’ve got and you never know how it’s going to go or how it’s going to end up, and every stroke, you’ve just got to give it everything," said team member McKenna Simpson.
The men’s side wasn’t as fortunate, losing to the formidable UBC team.
Van Schothorst said he is still proud of his crew, and they will come back strong next year.
For now, though, it hurts, for all of them.
"I think it’s the heart that goes into winning one of these, the understanding that you can be immortalized in Canadian rowing, that drives the tears that occur when you lose, the bitter heart ache, the agony of defeat. It’s palpable, it’s real, you can taste it."