Rowers get help engineering podium push, as UVic students work on training machine

Rowing Canada athletes are looking to reach the podium. The University of Victoria faculty of engineering is working on a way to get them there. Not on Elk Lake, but in the classroom.

The need comes because of an aging rowing machine that is no longer manufactured, but which Rowing Canada still finds useful for identifying raw power in potential recruits.

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The funding came through a grant from the RBC Training Ground program, which looks to uncover potential young Canadian sporting talent for future Olympics.

“We use the machines as an important part of our ID process, but they are getting old and breaking down,” said Samantha Heron, assistant coach with Rowing Canada and UVic, with an emphasis on Next Generation rower development with the former.

Although Concept 2 stopped manufacturing the C2 Dyno machine 13 years ago, Rowing Canada still swears by it. But the organization’s old machines are now breaking down and are difficult to fix.

“Next Gen coaching involves a lot of talent identification work, so we are always carting around these C2 Dyno machines because that is what we’ve always used,” said Heron.

“We started thinking maybe we should build our own machines. But I’m a rowing coach and not an engineer. So I reached out across the country for anyone interested in designing a replacement prototype. We are looking for a design that can be manufactured.”

Heron got a bite almost immediately.

“[UVic faculty of engineering development co-ordinator] Anna Kobb got back to me quickly,” Heron said.

It has become the summer term project for the UVic fourth-year mechanical engineering class.

“It all came together naturally,” said Kobb.

“This course is literally about design. This provided our students with an actual client we can talk to and dig into the process with. It is a perfect fit. The class is about 30 students and we have four teams working on it. We believe we can take this to the next level.”

Kobb described it as a “complex challenge” that gets the students “involved in mechanics, biomechanics, kinesology, portable design and technology for a real client, right on campus.”

Heron said she envisions applications in all sports that require an early and measurable identification of physical power.

“I can see lots of uses for this machine across various sports. Rugby would be one example,” she said.

Complicating matters is that schooling at UVic is currently being done online because of the pandemic, with only some lab work allowed in-person.

“There’s a lot of online work, via Zoom, but it’s going well,” said Kobb.

That is OK for the design phase. It is hoped more hands-on will be allowed in the fall and winter terms when nuts and bolts have to be put together to build a prototype that functions, not only theoretically on a computer screen, but the real world of metal and steel in which mechanical engineering functions.

“This is an exciting project for us in bringing together sport and engineering,” said Kobb.

Rowing Canada was among nine national sport organizations to receive grants of between $10,000 and $30,000 this year from the RBC Training Ground program. National sports organizations were asked to submit proposals. The Rowing Canada/UVic proposal was among the nine accepted.

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