Whitehorse hockey player turns rower at McGill

When one thinks of Yukoners’ favourite sports, rowing is not anywhere close to the top of the list. But there is at least one Yukon athlete who now calls himself a rower.

When one thinks of Yukoners’ favourite sports, rowing is not anywhere close to the top of the list.

But there is at least one Yukon athlete who now calls himself a rower.

Whitehorse’s Tomas Jirousek just finished his first season rowing for McGill University in Montreal, Que.

If you told him a year ago he’d be rowing at school, he would probably have been skeptical.

“I’ve actually always been a little scared of the water,” said Jirousek. “I was always a little nervous about it and I’ve never been as outgoing as my two brothers when it came to canoeing and kayaking, but I did it recreationally with my dad and brothers and dada. But it was never something I’d picture myself doing as a sport.”

The 18-year-old always pictured himself playing hockey at university. He played goalie for the Whitehorse Mustangs rep team, Team Yukon at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games and in the Alberta Central Hockey League.

But he hung up his skates after the 2014/15 season when he developed a painful knee condition called Osgood-Schlatter disease, a common cause of knee pain in adolescents provoked by overuse.

“There was an awful pain that would shoot up from my knee every time I would go into the butterfly (stance), do lateral movements on the ice,” said Jirousek. “So it made it really painful to keep playing…. It wasn’t worth it if I was in that much pain on the ice.

“In this sport there’s no movement side to side, it’s straight up and down the slide, so the same pressure isn’t being put on my knees.”

Jirousek, who is in his first year of study at McGill, is on a men’s eight rowing team. He rows in the school’s novice program for first-year students with no rowing experience.

It’s great to be part of a team again, he said.

“Competing and being part of a team, I really miss that type of atmosphere, so rowing was a great way to get back into it and start competing against other universities and be a part of a team again,” said Jirousek.

“My dad (Jake) encouraged me to. He knows me better than I know myself, I guess, and I guess he could see I missed competing. Both my parents competed as university athletes, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I always thought I’d play hockey for university but it’s still great to be a part of this. My dad pushed me into this and I’m really glad that I got that push in the right direction that I needed.”

Jirousek and his team competed in four regattas held by the Ontario University Athletics (OUA).

His team placed third at “The Rideau,” in Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, second out of 16 teams at the Head the Trent Regatta, fourth at the Brock Invitational, and third at the OUA Championships in St. Catherines, two weeks ago.

“I decided to try it out. I wanted to give it a shot,” said Jirousek. “It’s something I really enjoyed, so I’m going to stick with it.”

“I’m going to stay here for large parts of the summer so I can get to be rowing, so I can stay in shape and keep the technique and learn more technique from my awesome coaches down here,” he added.

Even with the season over, Jirousek and his team are training hard and raising money — simultaneous. Through a fundraising campaign called Seeds of Change, his team will collectively row 100 kilometres on rowing machines for every $100 donated to the team with the goal of raising enough for a new boat. (More information can be found at McGill.ca.)

When he’s not rowing, Jirousek is working towards a double honours degree in political science and economics with hopes of getting into law school at McGill.

“I love it here. I love the city, love the university,” said Jirousek. “I’m really glad I got involved in McGill rowing because as a first-year student I know a lot of people are having a hard time breaking into social groups and finding new friends. The rowing team has kind of become a family and the coaches have been so awesome showing us some of the ropes of the city and it provides that community I really missed with hockey.”

Contact Tom Patrick at tomp@yukon-news.com