By Hilary Hagerman
Two years ago, Matt Buie had never set foot in a rowboat.
The then-third-year architecture student decided to give rowing a try when the captain of the rowing team – a friend from residence – asked him he if wanted to try something new.
Buie started training in the fall and raced for the first time in May. Now, he’s a national champion. Buie, 22, reigned superior at the 127th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in the U-23 men’s singles division. In the week-long event, which ran from Aug. 2 to Aug. 9, he placed second in his heat, first in the semi-final, and was victorious in the finals on Aug. 7.
“Winning the Henley was absolutely amazing,” said Buie, who not only won, but also defeated his summer long rival, David Wakulich, who came in second.
The two had been racing against each other all summer, and Wakulich had even placed first in the heat where Buie came second.
“I had been chasing him down since the start of the summer, and this time I wasn’t going to let him beat me,” said Buie.
“I pulled away right from the start, and soon I was a boat length ahead of him. I just wasn’t going to give it up this time.”
However, Buie’s success hasn’t been so easily handed to him.
“The sport is a real competition to see who can pursue the longest and push the hardest,” said Buie. “When you’re in a single race, it’s a complete mental game where you’re saying, ‘I’m not going to let that guy catch me, and I’m going to beat him.'”
Rowing at the varsity level is time-consuming and a strenuous training schedule must be kept. Rowers usually train six or seven days per week, with sessions beginning as early as 6 a.m.
“If you want, you can take a day off, but for most of us – especially when it gets close to race time – we just want to do seven days at a time.”
It’s that work ethic and dedication that helped make Buie become such a great rower, said Ryerson rowing coach Dominic Kahn.
“Matt loves rowing and he knows what he has to do to win,” said Kahn. “He shows up every day, does his workouts and puts excellent effort into them. He gets something out of it every day, and every day he gets a little better. ”
Buie, who’s back for a fifth year at Ryerson, says rowing also stimulated his approach to academics.
“When I started rowing, I thought it was going to be extremely tough to pull off both [rowing and school], but actually my grades went up,” he said. “Since you have your mind on rowing and then your mind on school, when you actually do your school work you’re really into it and focused.”
Kahn believes Buie has become a beacon for the rest of the team.
“When they see him win, they see how his dedication pays off. Everyone on the team is talented, but not everyone is as workman about it as Matt,” he said.
Taking into account where he came from and how he developed, though, Buie is still grounded by modesty.
“I wouldn’t say I’m an inspiration,” said Buie . “I don’t go out to set an example. I just want to show people that you don’t have to be a superstar.”