First Year of Ontario NextGen Performance Centre Sees Growth and Development
News/ Jun 17

First Year of Ontario NextGen Performance Centre Sees Growth and Development

In May of last year, Row Ontario announced plans to develop a provincial rowing centre that would provide a world class training and event hosting environment for the Ontario rowing community and its rowers. The Ontario NextGen Performance Centre (ONGPC) has seen a tremendous amount of growth and development since that announcement just thirteen months ago. The ONGPC has been up and running since September and is now heading into its first full summer on the water.

“When I think back to where we were at this time last year, it’s really incredible the amount of growth that the ONGPC has gone through,” said Andrew Backer, CEO of Row Ontario. “Getting to where we are today has been a true team effort and we’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback and support from our sport partners including Rowing Canada Aviron, and the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario. They were instrumental through the planning phase and continue to be today. The last year and half have certainly come with unique challenges, and I couldn’t be prouder of the progress that we’ve made with the ONGPC since day one.”

One of the first priorities following the initial announcement in May was to determine a home for the Centre. In July, following a bid process which was open to communities across the province, the City of Welland was announced as the home of the Centre as well as all Row Ontario proprietary events. Boasting one of the most impressive rowing facilities in the country, Welland made for an ideal location for the ONGPC, and the city had all the elements Row Ontario was looking for in a host community.

At the same time that Welland was announced as the home of the ONGPC, Row Ontario also announced that Dr. Amanda Schweinbenz was chosen from a group of applicants to become head coach. Just under a week later, HUDSON was named as Row Ontario’s official boat supplier. As part of the partnership agreement, HUDSON provided a fleet of sized singles (Ultimate Shark Predators) for the ONGPC’s centralized athletes.

With a location, head coach and boat supplier now in place, the next big task was providing an application process for athletes interested in training at the ONGPC.

“We were overwhelmed with the amount of initial interest in training at the ONGPC when we started taking applications,” said Chris Marshall, Director of Rowing Pathways & Performance at Row Ontario. “We weren’t entirely sure what to expect and we received almost 70 applications in those first few weeks for both centralized and regional athletes. The amount of interest really caused us to shift our thinking in how we were going to approach the first year at the Centre. In terms of the number of athletes training full-time at the Centre, we achieved our five-year goal before the Centre was even open. We needed to be flexible on how we could accommodate that in year one while still providing an ideal daily training environment for the athletes.”

On September 2, 2020, the inaugural centralized athlete group rowed at the ONGPC on the Welland Canal for the first time. There were 15 full-time centralized athletes in the first group in addition to more than 40 regional athletes. The large number of centralized and regional athletes required Row Ontario to expand their coaching staff and in October Will Mulcahy was hired as an ONGPC coach.

A significant development occurred in the Fall of 2020 when RCA & Row Ontario’s partnership was announced, which saw the Centre become the Ontario hub for the RCA NextGen programming. Along with the support of performance partners Own the Podium and the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, the goal of the partnership is to contribute to the success of a unified and innovative centre of high performance rowing development.

“RCA’s high performance program is excited to further grow its longstanding and valued performance partnership with Row Ontario in advancing the successful delivery of the high performance development pathway and Next Generation (NextGen) strategy,” said RCA High Performance Director, Iain Brambell at the time of the announcement. “Supporting a centralized performance environment is key to providing a headquarters for targeted athletes in Ontario, while continuing to advance a strong connection to regionally targeted athletes excelling within their home environments (clubs and universities). RCA is confident that the knowledge and utilization of Individual Athlete Performance Plans generated through the NextGen strategy and HUB programming will remain an integral ingredient to building and supporting a successful development pathway for athletes and coaches alike.”

After more than two months on the water, the athletes transitioned to indoor training in November. There were a few other key developments that happened in November as well, the first being the naming of the SCAP Centre as the Physio and Sports Medicine provider and the official re-naming of the Centre to the Ontario NextGen Performance Centre after a few different titles over the first six months of its existence.

The move to indoor training created some challenges brought on by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the size of the training group. Through the provincial Stay-at-Home order, athletes were loaned ergs and were required to train virtually throughout the winter. An initial partnership with a local gym to provide an indoor training facility for which was originally thought to be a small group of athletes, also proved difficult due to a lack of available training times and the ability to accommodate the entire group. A solution was needed to provide adequate indoor training throughout the winter months, so Row Ontario went back to the drawing board and brainstormed a creative plan to expand their footprint at the dry-land facility on Hagar Street to create a private, in-house indoor training centre, complete with a fleet of ergs, bikes, free weights, and strength training equipment. After the lease was signed on January 1st, 2021, the work on the new space started late January and was ready for the athletes to return in early March, when COVID-19 restrictions briefly lifted.

“We’re really proud of what we created with the indoor training facility and the unanimous support received from the Row Ontario Board to make such an investment in Ontario athletes with podium aspirations,” said Marshall. “We didn’t anticipate having to go through this type of expansion for a few more years, but in the end, it really strengthened the environment we can provide the athletes with. It took a lot of hard work from a lot of people for it to come together but everyone rolled up their sleeves and really pitched in. We now have a great outdoor facility and an amazing waterway to row on in the summer, and a state-of-the-art, private indoor facility in the winter. One of the goals of the ONGPC is to create an optimal development pathway for Ontario-based athletes with Olympic and Paralympic aspirations, and we think we’ve put the infrastructure in place to accomplish those goals.”

As part of the partnership with RCA, the ONGPC will be the training centre for RCA NextGen teams. Currently, under current COVID-19 restrictions, the centralized group of athletes are continuing to train at the Centre, along with a group of RCA-identified U19 athletes for the 2021 Junior Worlds.