By: Mark Dwyer
The Kim Stirling Memorial Trophy is one of the most beautiful trophies in Canadian sports – fitting as it honours and celebrates the life of a beautiful soul
Kim Stirling was a former rower who tragically lost her life in a car accident over four decades ago. On Oct. 16, 1977, Geoff and Joyce Stirling faced every parent’s worst nightmare.
“It’s something that you don’t think can ever happen to you. Even when it happens, you still don’t believe it,” says Joyce Stirling, the pain still visible in her eyes. “I’ve had a few tough things to deal with throughout my life but nothing compares to losing a child.”
For four years in the mid-1970s, Kim Stirling fell in love with the sport of rowing, competing for a team aptly named Apache. Ironically, the little road that leads into NTV Studio also bears that name, Apache Way.
“If Kim were alive today, she’d probably be out there rowing her heart out,” her mom says with a wide smile. “She absolutely loved rowing and I honestly don’t know what propelled her to enjoy it as much as she did.”
Through unimaginable pain, Kim’s proud parents were determined to preserve her memory – and remembered a chat she had with her mom prior to her death.
“Kim rowed for four years and every year, without fail, she would ask why there isn’t a ladies championship trophy. She was kind of a feminist even then and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her,” recalls her mom.
In 1979, the Kim Stirling Memorial Trophy was born. For four decades now, the trophy has inspired the top female crews at the Royal St. John’s Regatta.
“After her passing, we wondered how we could preserve Kim’s memory in the minds of Newfoundlanders. It was obvious to us, a trophy for the ladies champions,” Joyce says.
With a concept in mind, Joyce approached then-Regatta Committee president and honorary life member John Perlin who immediately endorsed the project. Stirling gave the job of creating the trophy to artist Frank Warren who sculpted a pewter scale-model of a racing shell to sit atop a wooden plinth.
“It’s absolutely beautiful and I’ll be forever grateful to Frank for the incredible work her did.”
Top women’s crew
These days, with so much interest in the races by women competitors, it is one of the event’s most hotly-contested awards. For the past 40 years, female rowers have shed blood, sweat and tears for the honor of hoisting the prestigious trophy – awarded annually to the top women’s crew.
No one has won that trophy more than Hall of Famer and 10-time champion Siobhan Duff, the celebrated rower who led OZ FM crews to a number of titles throughout her career.
“Knowing from the onset that the trophy was designed by Kim’s mom as a memorial to her daughter, it made it even more of an accomplishment for us to win it,” says Duff, a close friend of the Stirling family. “I know I speak for all the girls when I say it was an entirely different spiritual dimension – knowing we were always rowing for Kim.”
The Stirling family have an obvious passion for the sport. Perhaps it was Kim’s love for rowing that intertwines that connection. Geoff, the multi-media magnate that pioneered NTV, was a tireless supporter. His son, Scott, now the station’s president, is as committed to the Regatta as his dad ever was. And numerous staff at NTV compete in the annual rowing derby, some of them chasing the trophy that bears Kim’s name.
The Kim Stirling Memorial Trophy is the holy grail of female rowing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years. Women now dominate the schedule with over 70 per cent of participants being female.
“It’s amazing how the tide has changed over the past few decades. When Kim rowed, the sport was dominated by men. Now it’s predominantly women and I think Kim’s trophy has played a part in that,” says Joyce.
Kim Stirling has been gone over 40 years but she has never really left the sport – from the trophy that bears her name to the spot that she chose as her final resting place.
“When she was training, Kim once said she’d eventually like to be buried near finish line at Quidi Vidi Lake. Through divine intervention, I’d like to think, that’s exactly where she is. She’s there watching it each year,” says Joyce.
Kim Stirling’s resting place is, of course, near the foot of the Anglican Cemetery, precisely adjacent to the finish line at Quidi Vidi.
“It’s coincidental. It just happened to be that that was what was available in the cemetery at the time. And Geoff is buried right next to her.”
Mark Dwyer’s NTV’s feature, A Stirling Legacy, was selected the Atlantic Journalism Award (AJA) top sports story for 2018. He was also a finalist for the RTDNA top sports story in Canada.