Pull! the story of Ruth Rutledge
The television announcer calling the Head of the Charles regatta — one of the most challenging rowing races in the world — announced the oncoming boat to the audience.
“Here comes Maple Bay Rowing Club from Duncan B.C., representing the western-most rowing club in Canada. Ruth Rutledge was a bronze medalist in the crash-B indoor rowing competition last year and she is mother to Canadian rower Ben Rutledge. Have a great row Maple Bay!”
That Rutledge was recognized for her rowing achievement at the international event is impressive considering she took her first stroke only four years ago. She was inspired by her son, Ben, who rowed in the gold medal-winning Canadian men’s eight boat in Beijing, and she lives in Maple Bay where a rowing club is steps from her door.
“I’ve looked out on Maple Bay for years and thought ‘I’d like to be on that water.’ I didn’t know how, I didn’t think about the rowing club. I just thought the water is a serene, calm, beautiful place to be.”
Rutledge, 64, was hooked on the sport after her first learn-to-row course. She knew instinctively it was a good fit.
“I watched Ben row for years. I felt like I understood it. It was familiar. There’s a huge possibility if I hadn’t been in the environment I wouldn’t have tried it.”
When she was young, Rutledge’s parents didn’t encourage her to participate in sports yet she immediately connected with the competitive aspect of rowing.
“Right from the beginning I wanted to be in a single and I wanted to do well. I just wanted to get better at it. And I got really really lucky. I had a lot of success the first couple of times I tried it.”
Rutledge lost her first race but won the next seven.
“Success feels good and I kind of knew that’s where I would be. “
Over the years, Rutledge has received coaching at Maple Bay Rowing Club, Victoria City Rowing Club, and from her son.
“Ben coaches when he can. Not often, but when he can. He’s an amazing coach. He looks at you and gives you the one tip that changes everything.”
Rutledge and her son raced together this summer. They lost their first race, but Rutledge conceded it didn’t help her son wasn’t feeling well.
“He had been sick with food poisoning the night before. A perfect mother would have said ‘let’s not race.’ Not me. I said something to the effect of, ‘You’ll be fine, sweetie.’ I didn’t want to miss my opportunity.”
They did better the next time they raced, coming second to a team whose average age was 45 when their’s was 58. Racing with her son means everything to Rutledge.
“That was my biggest thrill in the past four years.”
Rutledge said her obsession with rowing is based on the incredible challenge of perfecting the rowing technique.
“It’s never right. You’re never perfect. I rowed in a double the other day. We might have had five beautiful strokes. A lot of people would think, ‘five good strokes? When you’ve taken a thousand?’”
Rutledge looks forward to rowing for many years. She was inspired by Mary Elizabeth Stone of Berkeley Paddling and Rowing Club who at 85 was the oldest rower at the Boston regatta.
“This is her thirtieth Head of the Charles. If I could row the Head of the Charles when I’m 85, wouldn’t that be terrific?”
Maple Bay Rowing Club
will offer its next learn-to-row session in May 2013. Cost is approximately $225 for 10 sessions over 5 weeks. Experienced rowers are welcome to join the masters rowers on Sunday mornings for a two-hour session on the water from 9 to 11. Full membership is $600 or you can buy a book of tickets to pay per row. Private rowing is also available. Find contact information at maplebayrowingclub.ca.