Rowing didn’t start out as the sport of choice for Kathleen Heddle.
“I was in my third year at UBC and on registration day I was in War Memorial Gym signing up for courses when I went by a booth set up by the rowing team,” recalls Heddle of the day she was picked out of a line-up because of her height. “It was a pretty obscure sport then, so they would try to recruit people who they thought had the right build and had potential.”
It was perfect timing for the then nineteen-year-old Vancouver native. Her volleyball aspirations had stalled at the Point Grey campus and she was looking for a new challenge.
“I was hooked right away,” said Heddle. “I liked the balance between brute strength and power with finesse.”
After two years of steady improvement, in 1987 Kathleen joined the national team and won a gold medal in the pair event at the Pan American Games that first year. Until 1996 Kathleen was a fixture on the Canadian squad, winning nine world championships and Olympic medals.
In 1991 Kathleen teamed up with Marnie McBean for the first time. In their initial race, the Canadian pair beat the defending world champions. Later that year the Heddle-McBean combo won gold at the world championship and were also part of the eights crew that finished first. The next year the duo repeated their world championship success by winning Olympic gold at Barcelona in both the pairs and eights.
“We were just happy to be going,” said Heddle about her first trip to the Olympics. “There wasn’t a lot of pressure and not a lot of expectations on us.”
Switching to sculling boats, Kathleen won a silver medal in doubles at the 1994 world championship, followed by gold in the double and silver in the quad in 1995. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Kathleen closed out her rowing career by teaming up with McBean to win gold in the doubles and a bronze medal in the quad.
“It was more intense in Atlanta,” said Heddle. “Rowing was seen as a medal sport in Canada and we were seen as the favourites. It was more of a burden to meet the expectations people placed on us. When we won, it was more a feeling of relief than anything else.”
At the time of her retirement, Heddle and McBean stood as Canada’s most decorated female Olympians. Kathleen has received many honours including the Order of BC and induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
Heddle is also inducted in the UBC Sports Hall of Fame. For his UBC biography, please visit www.ubcsportshalloffame.com