Two Victoria Olympic rowers retire and have harsh words for ‘system’

The song Renegades by X Ambassadors could have been written for Victoria rowers Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, who have announced their retirements from the sport.

“There’s more to us than the end result,” Jennerich said. “It’s not just the Olympic medal. It’s the whole story that goes with it.”

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The resolute duo won their silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics in women’s lightweight doubles by essentially rowing outside the system. They reached the podium on their own terms and now they retire on their own own terms.

“We had to create our own world,” Jennerich said. “But we had unwavering belief in ourselves. It was like validation. We were small women, but we knew what we wanted.”

The crux is Jennerich and Obee did not feel supported by Rowing Canada in terms of equipment and other issues.

“We were the black sheep,” added Obee, who came out of Stelly’s Secondary to row with the University of Washington Huskies in the Pac-12.

“It’s not just the silver medal. It’s the whole story that goes with it. We would not be Olympic medallists right now if we did it [Rowing Canada’s] way. If we had not gone through this, it might not have felt so special as it does, or I might not feel as connected to Lindsay. This is why we are content to retire. When we hit the finish line [at Rio], it was such relief. We were done fighting . . . done fighting for respect.”

Obee and Jennerich claim Rowing Canada was ambivalent about their medal, despite it salvaging hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding by being the only podium performance by Canada in rowing at the Rio Olympics.

“Rowing Canada was sombre and embarrassed by our medal. It wasn’t their medal,” said Obee.

“We had to fight for our equipment, even in the final year.”

Jennerich admitted she and Obee could come off as “princesses asking for too much … it is so easy to look like whining athletes.”

Much of the problem centred on location. The national men’s heavyweight crews are based at Elk Lake. The women’s heavyweight and lightweight crews are based in London, Ont.

Jennerich and Obee are both from Victoria and could not understand why a reasonable accommodation couldn’t have been made for them to be centralized in their hometown, especially since doubles is the lone women’s Olympic lightweight rowing category.

Rowing Canada was asked to respond to the parting shots made by its lone Olympic medal crew from Rio 2016.

“I am disappointed [Jennerich and Obee] feel that way,” said Terry Dillon, the new CEO of Rowing Canada, who is based in Victoria.

Dillon is now in charge, but he took over the organization after Rio.

“I understand we have a set of circumstance over how the program was managed that led to this situation,” he said. “The program is being managed in a different manner now.”

Obee and Jennerich have some advice: “Rowing Canada has a fear of trusting its experienced athletes and doesn’t use the biggest resource it has — its past Olympic athletes.”

The whole process took a toll, Jennerich and Obee said. But the result is a medal to last a lifetime.

“All the bad things created this [medal]. We were so beaten down, mentally and physically. We, however, are at peace,” said Obee, who admitted falling into clinical depression during her stressful Olympic journey.

“I felt more comfortable at the University of Washington and Lindsay felt more appreciated at UVic because [Vikes coach] Rick Crawley empowered his rowers.”

Others who Obee and Jennerich said supported them through the stressful times were Canadian sports psychologists Kirsten Barnes and Janice Mason, themselves former Olympic rowers, coach Tom Morris and chiropractor Michael Murray.

Olympic medallists Gabe Bergen, who is Jennerich’s fiancé, and Will Crothers, who is Obee’s boyfriend, have also been there for them.

“These people showed compassion and were our saviours,” said Jennerich, a 34-year-old product of Claremont Secondary.

“As hard as it was, I don’t regret it,” said Jennerich.

Added the 25-year-old Obee: “If not for having gone through this, it might not have felt as special.”

The unbending duo earned the nickname the Dirty Double.

“It represents our style,” said Jennerich, who now works in athlete services, while Obee is a yoga teacher working on her masters degree in child and youth counselling.

“We are all done with rowing, but we have each other.”

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