It all began for The Pacemakers back in 2014.
Even though we were a brand new rowing crew, we rowed the 196th Royal St. John’s Regatta – the first year that we took to the water. And we’ve kept on rowing ever since! Given the intensity of work that we do in the Health Sciences Centre’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab each day, our team is used to a good challenge!
The thing was – the majority of the crew had never attended the regatta before, let alone competed in a race! The closest Pauline Malcomson had ever been to lakeside, for instance, was as a volunteer in the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union’s hospitality tent.
Crew member Pam Hunt had at least been to a number of regattas. But it was the 2013 regatta that sparked her interest in rowing: “I was at the lake that year and watched both the women’s and men’s championship races,” she says. “I had an awesome idea that I wanted to participate in the races. I went back to work that Monday and I knew just who to ask to be on the team.”
The very jump start that was needed! That very day The Pacemakers were born.
The Team behind the Team
We were lucky enough to get an experienced coxswain to steer our crew right away. Jim Carroll has been participating in the regatta for over 35 years and we were delighted that he agreed to take us on and teach us how to row.
Our next challenge, and our biggest, was getting someone to sponsor a new team. Dr. Sean Connors, Clinical Chief of Eastern Health’s Cardiac Care Program, quickly came on board as our very generous sponsor. He continues to be one of our greatest supporters and a driving force behind our successes thus far.
Dr. Anne Williams, cardiologist, also deserves a special mention as one of our biggest fans from the beginning. She calls herself our “team mascot.”
With the entire crew working in cardiac care (all but one in the cath lab), and with Dr. Connors as our sponsor, the name The Pacemakers was very fitting for the team.
Our team is made up of very diverse individuals, ranging in age from 26 to 54. Our careers are diverse, too. Bridget Chafe is the housekeeper in the cath lab, Megan Willette is an EKG tech at St. Clare’s EKG department, Christa Coombs is an X-Ray tech in the cath lab, and Pam Hunt, Pauline Malcomson, Jackie Smith and Kory Power are all registered nurses in the cath lab.
But we all have one thing in common – our passion and love for rowing.
It does have its challenges. The St. John’s weather can mean wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow – and even ice fog! And we’ve rowed in it all. Family commitments and stressors, work schedules, vacation leave and personal illness have all challenged team at one point or another since we began.
Just last year, Bridget faced a major health scare. She was diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer and underwent a Whipple procedure, a major eight-hour abdominal surgery. She had the surgery in October, returned to work in February and started training in March to row in the regatta last summer.
“It was tough to train last year after having such a big surgery but I did it and I was glad to be part of the team,” Bridget says. “This year I am feeling back to myself and I feel that I am in better physical condition than ever before.”
We’ve had many laughs and lots of fun, so far, and we’ve even shed a few tears along the way. It’s all a part of being such a close knit team who spend so much time together training. Teamwork is so important when it comes to rowing.
“Everyone needs to have the same level of commitment and be willing to sacrifice and work hard,” says Megan. Pauline adds, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. That’s been our experience since the beginning and that’s the motto we live by during rowing season.”
Boosts and Benefits
We experienced personal gains from being part of such an awesome team as The Pacemakers – cardiac health and physical fitness being the top two. “It’s a great confidence booster just knowing you can participate in such a well-known race and do well at it,” says Christa.
According to Kory, “Rowing is a great stress relief. When you get in that boat to row, you have to have your head in the boat at all times. It actually takes your mind off whatever else you got going on in your life even just for that 30 minutes.”
For Jackie, improved health and weight control have been a direct result of training. Over the last year and a half she has lost over 100 lbs. She attributes her success to the rowing and running she’s doing. It helps her to maintain her weight loss and current level of fitness.
We have a lot of fans and a huge amount of support from our families, friends and coworkers. It’s been said that we have the biggest fan group at the pond. People come out to support us not only on our race days but during our training days and for this we’re forever grateful.
Picking up the Pace
This year, we started our dry land training on January 6 and hit the pond at Quidi Vidi on May 1…first once a day, then twice a day in the past two months. It’s a lot of hard work and takes a great deal of dedication.
Although we have not placed first in a race yet, we know winning is subjective – and we have improved dramatically since our first year and in that sense we are already winners. Last year we finished our race on regatta day in six minutes, 40 seconds.
This year we are hoping for a much faster time. We’ve worked and trained hard and we think we can do it. We have already rowed six minutes and 27 seconds in the time trial race – so we figure with all this forward momentum – we can only get better from here.
In any case, for the last two years we’ve had a big celebration after regatta day races to celebrate our accomplishments and great teamwork – and this year will be no different.
Our long term plan is to continue to row as The Pacemakers rowing crew until the Royal St. John’s Regatta’s 200th year – just two years away. We are thinking of retiring after that, but who knows – we may just take up racing hot air balloons after rowing.
Once we set the pace at ‘awesome’ – the sky is the limit for this crew! ■
This story was written by Pam Hunt, a registered nurse in Cardiac/Critical Care with Eastern Health.