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Tribute set for late Olympic gold-medallist rower Kevin Neufeld

The late Olympic gold-medallist rower Kevin Neufeld will be remembered, at a celebration of life this month, as an absolute monster on the water in his rowing days and a gentle and devoted family man off it.
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Kevin Neufeld (front row, centre) and the 1984 Olympic men's eight celebrate their gold medal on the dock. TIM O'LETT

The late Olympic gold-medallist rower Kevin Neufeld will be remembered, at a celebration of life this month, as an absolute monster on the water in his rowing days and a gentle and devoted family man off it.

“There will be plenty of tears and laughter,” said Olympian Nick Toulmin, who was a roommate of Neufeld’s during their varsity years rowing for the powerhouse University of Victoria program.

“We called him the Specimen. Kevin taught me how to be an elite athlete. I had no concept until I saw him train.”

Three members of the UVic team — Neufeld, Grant Main and Dean Crawford — won Olympic gold at Los Angeles in 1984 with the Canadian men’s eight as Neufeld, Main, Crawford, Blair Horn from Brentwood College, brothers Michael and Mark Evans, Paul Steele, Pat Turner and cox Brian McMahon edged the silver medallist U.S. by 0.4 seconds in the pulsating final.

“We all had different roles and Kevin was always the steady one,” said Crawford.

“But he had a fun side and was always humorous. Most of all, family was always the most important thing to Kevin.”

Neufeld died on Feb. 26 of pancreatic cancer in Victoria at 61. A celebration of life has been set for May 17 at 2 p.m. at the Central Baptist Church on Pandora Ave.

Neufeld was as proficient in the classroom as he was on the water, twice being named winner of the prestigious President’s Cup at UVic, awarded annually to the student athlete who best combines athletic and academic achievement.

“Those were the glory years for UVic and Kevin excelled athletically and academically,” said Crawford. Al Morrow, then UVic head coach, said Neufeld changed the tenor of the program with his arrival from high school in St. Catharines, Ont.

“Kevin was the first guy to come in from the outside,” said Morrow, who went on to coach the Canadian women to much Olympic success.

“By doing that, he lifted the UVic program to the next level, from a walk-on program to a destination program. He was the ground-breaker and shifted the program.

“Beyond that, everyone loved him so much. He was a true gentleman and steady, likeable and even-keeled. He was outstanding within an outstanding group of athletes.”

Neufeld rowed for UVic from 1982 to 1988 on teams that dominated regattas across the continent. Internationally for Canada, Neufeld added the 1988 Seoul Olympics and a gold medal in the 1986 Commonwealth Games to his resumé. Neufeld is in the B.C., Canadian Olympic, UVic, St. Catharines and Greater Victoria sports halls of fame. He remained on the Island after his UVic rowing years and had a successful career as a sales manager.

“Kevin was a fierce competitor, but that didn’t translate in any form into ego,” said UVic and gold medallist Canada teammate Main. “He was humble, affable and unpretentious, traits many wish more athletes had these days.”

Neufeld married former UVic swim star Connie Schultze. Their son, Matt Neufeld, played NCAA Div. 1 basketball for St. Louis and UC-Davis, and for Canada in the Under-19 World Cup and now plays pro in the Canadian Elite Basketball League.

Neufeld is survived by wife Connie, sons Matt, Travis and Kai, parents Len and Willie and sister Lynda.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com