Chinook Performance Racing (CPR) has achieved a great deal in a short space of time. The masters rowing team hailing from all over North America has been competently driven forward by a group of women with a steadfast determination to succeed and a coherent vision for their culture. Their website tells us this much: ‘CPR fosters a culture of mutual respect and support, a dedication to excellence, integrity, self-motivation, and accountability in all that we do.’                 

Chinook at World Rowing Masters Regatta 2015

Unsurprisingly they have been winning regattas all over the world; just take a look at the team’s Facebook page to see the vast array of gold medals that have been collected this year. So when World Masters Games 2017 saw Chinook racing at the 2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta in Hazewinkel, Belgium, we jumped at the chance to speak with founding member, ex-Olympian and World Masters Games athlete, Lesleh Anderson Wright.

 

Mountain Biking In Portugal With Fellow Rowers

Lesleh began her rowing career at the age of eleven in her hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario; a place that she describes as having “a rowing community like no other”. At St. Catharine’s, Lesleh rowed doubles with a friend before women were officially allowed to row at the club in 1976. Sporting a petite frame, it wasn’t long before Lesleh was strongly encouraged to take up a vacant coxswain position. “I denied this until my coach said I had a better chance of going to the World Championships as a coxswain than a rower”, Lesleh says.  A place on the Canadian National Team followed in the spring of ‘77 along with many opportunities to row the world with her teammates.

Fast forward to 2014, and with two other founding members of Chinook – Deborah Davis and Nancy Dynan – Lesleh formed a crew to race, but had no name to race under. Occoquan International, a men's team filled with Olympians and former accomplished collegiate athletes, invited them to do so. “They agreed that we could race under their name, which was quite a step” said Lesleh, but with all the admin involved in renting boats the girls were prompted to go at it alone, recruiting final founding member Merida Scully to form the now thirty-six strong Chinook Performance Racing, and choosing Hudson Rowing shells from Hudson Boatworks as their top choice for racing shells.

 

On The Medal Stand At Royal Canadian Henley Regatta

Lesleh explains the girls surprised themselves with “a slam dunk of a win” in their first race at the 2014 San Diego Spring Classic, and having built their website in the winter months leading up to the regatta, everything was in place to stir up some excitement about Chinook. “It wasn’t our desire to become a recruiting team”, says Lesleh, “we wanted people to come to us because they saw that we were bonded by friendship and hard work”. With success comes attention and Chinook was soon getting a lot of it within the rowing community. The team website provides an ‘athlete profile submission’ tab – an opportunity for masters rowers to submit their CV in a bid to join Chinook – “that’s how we built our team, through those profiles” explains Lesleh.      

 

Training For The San Diego Crew Classic                    

Once an all-female team, Chinook have now opened their oars to men who possess a similar mind set to the current crew - "work hard, race hard, play hard". From their performances in the team’s annual rowing camp in Middletown, Delaware, men have asked to join the fold. Lesleh says it made sense to do so, due to the amount of mixed racing available at masters regattas "and hopefully they enjoy the flip side of the competition as much as we all do: venturing out and doing cycling trips and hiking adventures".

For a masters rowing team in its infancy, the culture at Chinook is a remarkably mature one. The purpose of the team surpasses the blinkered thrill of competition; the girls have been careful to emphasise a mantra of “no nonsense”, ensuring all members are on the same page to maintain the cohesive bond that allows them to enjoy success as friends rather than simply teammates. Lesleh sensibly recognises the challenges that some of the younger members face, “some women are busy starting families and are young professionals, and they don’t have the flexibility in their personal lives to pick up and go”. Chinook, however, demonstrates that teams can enjoy great success with a little malleability and a few committed older members!

The ladies of Chinook have fond memories of the World Masters Games, particularly from racing in Torino, Italy in 2013 where they hauled in a bag full of medals. “The best part though”, Lesleh says, “was that after the competition was done, we were all rowers and we had a fantastic last evening”. The comradery even out in the water is evident at the World Masters Games, as Lesleh recalls sitting on the starting gate at the first race as every athlete sang ‘happy birthday’ to a fellow rower in their respective languages.  The friendship and respect that is evident at the Games are qualities that are important to Chinook, not just for the events they attend but also how they operate as a team.

 

Celebrating-our-win-with-Hudson-Boatworks-at-US-Masters-Nationals

Lesleh, for one, is excited to row on Lake Karapiro in the 2017 World Masters Games, “it’s a great venue, one where they know how to host regattas”. She is also keen to face the competition that the prestigious venue brings, “there are a lot of good athletes from Australia and New Zealand”. Keeping true to Chinook style, the girls plan to stay another week and travel the beautiful New Zealand landscape, but not before gunning for golds at the Games. If you’re heading to Auckland for the World Masters Games in 2017, keep an eye out for the ladies of Chinook Performance Racing rowing by on Karapiro; blink and you’ll be sure to miss them. 

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