August 13, 2004
Life put on holdRowers make a unique tandem
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
Mara Jones will be a doctor one day, likely a fine one at that, given her working knowledge of pain.
And when fellow Canadian Olympian Fiona Milne isn't on the water, she is a part-time physiotherapist, well-versed in the vernacular of aching muscles.
Together the Ontario-born twosome provides one of the most unique and worldly entries Canadians will see when the Summer Olympics begin this weekend, here in Greece.
The women's lightweight doubles entry will dip oars at the Schinias Rowing Centre as serious medal hopes after upsetting the world-champion Germans in Lucerne in their final pre-Olympic event.
These are not just young athletes chasing an Olympic dream on a whim before their life gets settled, however.
Aurora native Jones, who turned 30 this week, is on a two-year leave from U of T's medical school. Milne is a 32-year-old from Niagara-on-the-Lake who can't get rowing out of her blood.
Both have used their careers as rowers as a vehicle to travel the world and challenge themselves. That it has brought them to such a grand stage is like hitting the lotto.
For Jones, it almost didn't happen. With a master's degree from McGill behind her and a career as a physician in front, she was that close to dismissing athletics as folly.
"I was almost ready to go on (with med school) full time, but I couldn't do it," Milne said yesterday, sitting in the shaded grandstand overlooking the gleaming Schinias course.
"I wanted to see how far I could go with this. I didn't want to walk away with a chip on my shoulder. Finally, I figured I could go to school any time but I'm not going to go to row when I'm 40. I wouldn't have wanted to be a curmudgeonly old lady regretting I didn't at least give it a try."
When the U of T administration encouraged her to go for gold, Milne had the final push she needed and she left school early in 2003.
Surely, there were some who thought the move was a loony one, right Mara?
"Like, for instance, my parents?" she said with a laugh. "My mother was horrified. She wanted me to go for med school because for her that was safety.
"Now she's like: 'Oh, it's the Olympics.' "
For the record, mom and dad will be here on the weekend, leading the cheers for their daughter.
Milne has a different perspective on rowing's place. She considers the sport not a diversion, but part of life's course.
"It's definitely living life to the fullest, so I wouldn't say I'm putting anything on hold," said Milne, who was a disappointing ninth in single sculls at Sydney. "Families, relationships and my career may just have to wait. It might not work for everyone, but it works for me."
Though they've been a team only since May, Jones and Milne quickly became united in their sense of purpose. Both leave nothing in the boat, even if pain is the price.
Their most recent win showed just how well the sacrifices of long hours on the water have worked.
"I think we are realistic about the way we approach things," Jones said.
"It's not supposed to be ballet on water. There's an element of strength and brute craziness and I think we've both got that in our heads."
-- WHO: Fiona Milne, 32, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Mara Jones, 30, of Aurora
-- WHAT: Lightweight double sculls.
-- WHEN: Heats Sunday; semi-finals on Thursday; final Aug. 22.
-- SKINNY: Upended the world-champion Germans in past race to emerge as medal threat.