July 25, 1996
Strange paths to the rowboat
By LARRY TUCKER -- Calgary Sun
LAKE LANIER -- One was broken, the other was big and neither knew a paddle from an oar.
Meet Heather McDermid and Tosha Tsang, a couple of Calgary gals who came into their sport late but have made up for lost time.
If all goes by the form chart, they'll be chasing an Olympic medal Sunday, occupying the Nos. 1 and 2 seats with the Canadian eight with coxswain.
It's not entirely a miracle they're here. Canadian rowing isn't the largest of worlds and the good ones are quickly recognized.
"It might appear to be haphazard," says coach, Al Morrow. "But there are such small numbers of rowers in the country, it's no accident they came to my attention. Granted, the last few years have been very, very planned. But how they fell into the sport ... that certainly wasn't."
To McDermid, the rowing career and this Olympic experience might be doubly satisfying. For one thing, sport runs in her family. Her brother Blair plays with the national volleyball team, which didn't qualify for these Games. Her sister Jill was a national track team member before retiring to attend medical school. And her mom Carol is team leader with the '96 Canadian Olympic track and field squad.
But there might be an even greater source of satisfaction for McDermid. She'd devoted years to making the Olympic track team, only to be betrayed by stress fractures.
"I fractured my leg in 1991, then refractured it in '92 just before the Olympic trials," the 27-year-old recalls with a shudder. "That was it. They told me my career was over."
Well, one career was. But, as luck would have it, a sideline led to a second chance.
"A good friend of my sister was a member of the Calgary Rowing Club," she says. "I was making body suits for their crew. I was talking with the coach one day and he said I should come out and try it.
"I'd graduated from school and was looking for work. I still wanted to compete but nothing really interesting came up. So I took a learn-to-row course. I loved it and it was good for my body because it was non-weight-bearing.
"I'd been invited to camp in April of 1995, so I quit my job in Calgary and moved out to London. I made the team as a spare last year, then in November was invited to the Olympic camp, then to the trials.
"It just kinda went from there."
Strange though McDermid's introduction to the discipline was, Tsang's was even more unlikely.
"I started my first year at McGill," Tosha says. "My sport had been basketball at Western Canada High. But when I went to university I was a little worried about the academic pressures. So I decided beforehand I wouldn't have the time to commit to basketball.
"In the back of my mind, I was looking for another sport. I've always done some sort of sport just to keep busy.
"I'd gone through this two-hour registration in the gym on my first day. When you came out of the gym, there was this long hallway full of tables with different clubs, trying to draw you in.
A big fit
"They're saying: `Oh, come join us,' or `Why don't you come see what we're about?'
"I was walking past these tables, just trying to get outside and make my way home. All of a sudden, I heard this deep voice that said: `Hey you, you're big.'
"I was a little miffed and a little offended. So I turned around and said: `Yes, can I help you?'
"Then this guy said: `You should row.'
"He brought me over to his table and started to talk about the McGill University rowing team. I hadn't even heard about rowing before. But the sign said: `Two-month commitment, no experience necessary.' So I thought I'd give it a try.
"I certainly wasn't thinking about anything like this, though. I didn't even know rowing was at the Olympics. I was completely out in left field. I had no idea for a long time."