Guelph rower takes bronze medal at U23 world championships

Stephen Harris began rowing while attending John F. Ross CVI

A medal win at any level can make you love your sport a little more and that level of love for your sport can only go up when that medal win comes at a world championship event.

Rower Stephen Harris, who was born in Oakville but grew up in Guelph, knows that well after winning a bronze medal in the world under-23 rowing championships at Varese, Italy, on the long weekend.

“I’m excited to train,” the 20-year-old said after showing off his bronze medal near the end of a video chat. “It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a training load and I’ve been looking forward to the next one and I’m happy.

“A medal will do that.”

Harris finished third in the lightweight men’s single sculls final A Saturday with a time of 7:17.56 in the 2,000-metre race. He was a little under nine seconds behind the winner and a little under five seconds behind the silver medalist.

With a wind whipping up the water, especially in the warm-up area, the competitors thought the races might be postponed a day.

“As soon as you got onto the course, they kind of had it sheltered so the course wasn’t as bad,” Harris said. “The warm-up area was pretty bad.”

The medal win capped off a championship meet that was both successful and a learning meet for the Guelph Rowing Club member.

“I would say my heat, my first race, wasn’t the best. There were a lot of nerves and I was very anxious and I went out way, way, way too fast and kind of blew up at the end and paid the price,” he said. “I learned a lot from that and kind of grew as an athlete from that race and it allowed me to have good racing from there on out. In the semi, I had a really good race. That semi I think was one of the best races I’ve ever had to qualify for the final.

“I’d raced so many times before and I’d learned those lessons before, but the lessons you learn on an international race is magnified so much.”

The weather also prompted meet organizers to change the way the podium ceremony is usually held.

“It was exciting. It was a little different than how they normally have it,” Harris explained. “Normally directly after your race the three podium guys go and get the medal right away before the next race has gone. This year it was a little different just because of the weather. They were trying to speed run everything because the weather was getting quite bad so they did all the medals at the end. It was a little different and I kind of
enjoyed it because it was back-to-back-to-back all the medals and the other Canadian medalists, I got to celebrate with them as well. It kind of became more special.”

A Brock University student who’s majoring in economics and has been on the school’s varsity rowing team since 2019, Harris started in the sport when he was a Grade 9 student at John F. Ross CVI.

“I started in high school, but my parents actually met rowing at the University of Western and they always knew that I’d do it in high school or as a sport at some point or time,” he said. “That’s kind of how I picked it up. It was a sport that my parents both did so you’re going to do it at some point and hopefully you like it. It’s good, it’s fun.”

Being a rower in single sculls would seem to have been a good situation to keep training during the pandemic.

“I’m going to be honest, you would think that but the first year of COVID, I really struggled a lot with training,” he said. “I would say just before COVID I was in better shape compared to about a year ago.”

When Harris realized that was the case, he decided to do something about it.

“About a year ago now I made a commitment that I was going to get back to the level where I was before and I kind of dedicated a lot of time to get back there,” he said. “For a lot of it I was kind of working full-time and rowing on the side not too, too much.

“I don’t think I fully utilized it as much as some of the other people did and I kind of spent the last year playing a little bit of catch-up, but I did pretty well playing catch-up.”

Harris won’t have long to savor his world championship medal win as he’s to be back on the water this weekend in the Canadian Henley Regatta at St. Catharines. After that he’ll have a training camp for the Team Ontario squad that is to compete in the Canada Summer Games and then it’s off to Brock for the university season. And this has come after moving to Victoria to work at the National Training Center this summer.

“It’s pretty bang, bang, bang right now,” he said. “I’m penciling some time off during Christmas.”

And there’s always the Olympics on the horizon.

“Right now I compete in the lightweight category which has a weight cap,” said the six-foot tall Harris whose weight is anywhere from 154 to 160 lbs. depending on which category he is competing in. “The IOC is looking to remove weight-cap sports from non-combat sports so Paris could potentially be the last lightweight inclusion in the Olympic rowing program.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make a run for Paris 2024 then after that I see a transition to a heavyweight – put on a couple more pounds of muscle and fight it out with some bigger guys who are like 6-6 and see if I can hold my own which I definitely think I can. Right now, the focus is on this fall university season and then I’d say fully on Paris.”

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