Riley Watson has burst onto Rowing Canada’s radar this spring.
The Grade 11 St. Peter Catholic Secondary School student has been invited to represent Canada at the CanAmMex Regatta in London, Ont., next month. It comes on the heels of winning the South Niagara Regatta single sculls in Welland and placing second in the lightweight men’s single at the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association championships in St. Catharines in recent weeks.
“I was supposed to do competitive rowing last year and the year before but because of COVID cancellations this was really my first big race season,” said Watson, 16, son of Donny and Tina Watson, who was a high school rower at Peterborough Collegiate .
His performance at Small Boat Trials in Welland last month, where he was first scouted by national team coaches, and his win at South Niagara gave Watson an indication he might be able to do well at CSSRAs. He was the top Canadian as Buffalo, NY’s Patrick Riley finished first in a close finish.
Rowing against older guys can sometimes be intimidating,” said Watson, who was rowing against Grade 12 and 13 students. “You just need to remember that if you can push yourself you can keep up with these guys.”
He finished first in the time trials and won his semifinal race leading up to the final where he was side-by-side with Riley.
“It was quite the battle,” said Watson. “By 1k we had stretched out from the pack and it was me and battling him. He had me by quite a bit off the start but where I like to race my race is to put myself in that painful position in the middle of it. A lot of rowing is seeing who can stay in that pain threshold the longest.
“In the last 500 meters I started to sprint. He still had me by a little bit and he saw me starting to sprint because I caught up to him and he started to sprint and ended up catching me by a little bit at the end. He was a very good racer and it was an honor to go up against him. Hopefully there is a rematch someday.”
Watson was first introduced to rowing at a Trent Excalibur summer sports camp when he was nine. In Grade 8 he joined the Peterborough Rowing Club initially as a recreational rower. He began to take it more seriously during the pandemic when training was the only avenue available to him with races canceled. His coaches urged him to go to the national team trials where he reached the B final against much more experienced national level rowers. The CanAmMex Regatta is for rowers Rowing Canada targets for potential development.
“I’ve always wanted to race on a national level. It’s always been a bit of a dream for the future,” said Watson. “I’ve known that this is what I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
He looks forward to his first international competition.
“I was pretty excited when I got the email,” he said.
PRC coaches Matt Hagopian and Ugette Vanderpost saw Watson’s potential.
“Riley is a very determined athlete,” said Hagopian. “When he sets his mind on something he really wants to go through with it. His progress is all on him. He’s put the time in and really gone the extra mile. Any chance he can to get on the water he’s committed and willing to do it.”
Hagopian expects Watson to have an outstanding university career.
“He lost to a very worthy competitor who has probably been rowing a lot longer than he has. It’s very impressive what Riley was able to do,” he said.