From those who vie for championship glory to those who simply enjoy the sport and comradery, the Regatta and rowing culture loom large for one company
There’s a makeshift gym inside an old warehouse behind NTV Studios in St. John’s, equipped with six rowing machines, a couple of exercise bikes and, well, one big message.
The ergs face a massive picture, one that stares at its rowers each training session. It’s an action shot of a photo finish from the 2018 Placentia Regatta, with the hometown Belfor crew beating the NTV men’s crew by just over a second.
How Bad Do You Want It?
Perhaps the picture is motivation and, in some strange way, a form of punishment. The words “How Bad Do You Want It?” begs a question to the young men who are clearly rowing with a chip on their shoulder.
They know the value of one measly second and – when the ice covers Quidi Vidi in the dead of winter – it’s the warehouse, the ergs and that merciless picture where the seconds get shaved on Regatta Day. It’s been quite the journey for NTV, a crew who sweat for the brand on the pond and at the office. The team is coached by Tony Barrington, who has enjoyed a celebrated career at the pond and the station.
Eddie Sheerr sits in the bow seat, while veteran producers Donnie and Dexter Decker are in 4 and 5, respectively. The trio, along with Blaine Edwards, has been hauling oar together since 2015. They rowed a modest 10:39 that first year and flirted with 10 minutes in 2016 and ’17. They recorded their best time of 9:23 in Placentia last July but, hey, you know how that ended?
This year’s edition is their best. They’re more focused, determined and, most importantly, have their best lineup. There’s also Frank Norris at No. 3 and Chris Roche at stroke, not to mention the addition of celebrated coxswain Dean Hammond. It was Hammond, you may remember, who steered the record-breaking M5 crew in 2018, establishing a new standard for the women’s course.
NTV started training just after Halloween and, since the shells were dusted off, have been on the pond six days a week. “We have certainly put the work in and it shows,” says Sheerr.
The time trials were a clear indication. They stopped the clock in a time of 9:38 and that was with a spare in the boat. Gary Collins was forced into the boat after Edwards was hit with a stomach bug. They finished about 15 seconds back of top-ranked Fine Strokes, a hybrid of last year’s champs from Outer Cove. “I still think we have the potential to go much faster,” says Donnie Decker.
By their own admission, nothing has been accomplished yet and the real test will be Regatta Day, when it really counts. “We’re building for a big (Regatta) day and have a great feeling about it,” says Sheerr, 32.
Rowing has been a part of the fabric at NTV for decades. It’s hard to walk through the building without stopping for a chat about the latest news from Quidi Vidi. The Stirling family have a long connection with the sport. In the 1960s, Herald founder Geoff Stirling actually ran an ad in the weekly offering a $1,000 prize to the team that can break the men’s course record.
Fact is, there’s a real similarity between the sport of rowing and journalism, and you can see it at NTV on any given day. The most obvious trait is team work, the importance of working together for a common goal. One of the pictures from The Herald’s rowing photo-shoot explains a lot – a fun snap of Kelly-Anne Roberts carrying colleague Amanda Mews. They’re having fun and, more importantly, supporting each other.
And both are actually on different teams.
Mews, one of NTV’s most identifiable faces, has been rowing since 2012 and part of a women’s championship contender for the past number of years. She’s stroke of the Dawe and Burke team, a lineup that also features former NTV journalists Heather Gillis, Danielle Barron and Meghan McCabe.
“We are great friends and there’s a sense of family with every crew. We spend so much time together and really support each other,” says Mews, NTV’s popular entertainment reporter.
Dawe and Burke rowed stopped the clock in a time of 5:32 at time trials, earning them a spot in the first race of the day at the 2019 Royal St. John’s Regatta. But they have a major task ahead of them. Hyflodraulic Ltd. posted the fastest time at trials with a time of 5:09, followed by Cahill Group at 5:17. “Our goal is to get faster every race but the hope is to make it to the championship race,” says Mews, 33. “That’s what we’ve been training for since we started in November.”
Other crews, like First General, have more modest expectations. That women’s crew features Mews’ colleague and friend, Kelly-Anne Roberts. First General will row in the second race of the day. They finished in the top 10 at time trials with a respectable time of 5:57, impressive when you consider there have three brand new rowers in the boat.
One of them is Roberts, no stranger to athletics. She played college hockey in Alberta before moving to Newfoundland several years ago. “I absolutely love it. I’m hooked,” says Roberts, 26. “It’s a ton of work but there’s no place I would rather be at 5:30 in the morning.”
The Newfoundland Herald men’s crew will actually row at 10 a.m. in, you guessed it, a racing shell aptly named The Newfoundland Herald. That crew features a couple of Newfoundland Broadcasting employees, veteran Herald art director Shannon Cleary and his nephew, NTV reporter Ben Cleary. The Herald finished in a time of 12:24 at time trials and will row in the third male race of the day.
“We have a lot of fun. That’s been our goal since the beginning,” says Ben Cleary, who was one of the province’s top hockey players before heading to King’s College to pursue a journalism degree two years ago.
“There is something very special about competing in the Regatta. It has so much history and it’s very cool to be a part of it.”
All rowers have different expectations on Regatta Day. Some have their sights set on the championship race while others are merely satisfied to participate. But all admit it’s fun to work with a company where rowing is a part of the culture.