For a quarter-century, Matt Foley has been coxing fixed-seat crews and teaching the sport to a new generation of rowers

Kenn Oliver
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He's steered hundreds in the right direction

Just across the road from where Matty Foley grew up in Southeast Placentia, a small path winds its way through the dense shrubbery down to Southeast Arm. As children, Foley and his friends would play with toy boats at the edge of the saltwater inlet where the historic Placentia Regatta took place every July.

"I always said, 'One of these days when I get older, I'm going to be able to get in one of those boats,'" Foley recalls of the racing shells stored pondside.

Matt Foley figures he has steered more than75 fixed-seat rowing crews overall. One year, he took on the challenge of nine crews in a single regatta. And he does much more. His heart is in the right place when it comes to the Regatta. Anything you want don

Just across the road from where Matty Foley grew up in Southeast Placentia, a small path winds its way through the dense shrubbery down to Southeast Arm. As children, Foley and his friends would play with toy boats at the edge of the saltwater inlet where the historic Placentia Regatta took place every July.

"I always said, 'One of these days when I get older, I'm going to be able to get in one of those boats,'" Foley recalls of the racing shells stored pondside.

At 49, it seems he can't get out of them.

"My wife (Bridget) keeps asking 'When are you giving it up? You're nearly 50. I just tell her 50 is only a number, I'm still young at heart.

"As long as I can put two feet in the boat, I'll be there."

Foley was introduced to the Placentia Regatta as an oarsman, and rowed for a number of years. But for much of the 25 years he's been involved, his primary passion has been coxing and teaching the sport to a new generation of rowers, hoping that someday he'll be able to pass the torch on.

May metamorphosis

From the beginning of May to the end of July, rowing takes over.

"My boss always says when rowing's not on the go, I spend 24 hours a day at the store," he says of the local Sobeys, where he is the grocery manager.

"As soon as rowing starts, by five o'clock I'm out of there and I'm at the boathouse till it gets dark. I'll certainly punch five hours a day on the pond."

All this, he admits, at the expense of spending time with his wife and children, Joshua, 14, and Emily, 9.

"Every now and again (during racing season Emily will say), 'Dad, when are you coming home? Dad, I don't see you enough," laments Foley, who is always sure to take a family trip as soon the rowing season ends.

"I put everything aside and we go somewhere as a family."

Foley knows he's appreciated, but he doesn't need thank you and 'atta-boy' to know it.

"Just to see the expression on these young people's faces after they cross the finish line, whether they first first or fourth, just knowing they done it makes me proud. Knowing I done my best to get them across that line and they done theirs to get me there," Foley insists.

Rower Evelyn Greene can attest to Foley's tireless efforts on behalf of the rowing community in the Placentia region.

After rowing recreationally, the mother of two and five friends decided to put together a competitive team in 2005. And when a coach backed out at the last minute, she knew to call Foley.

"He took us out that night and the rest is history," says Greene, whose boat has risen through the ladies' ranks, landing a stake in last year's championship race and finishing third.

"He took six people in a boat who didn't have a clue and taught us to row properly. If you've got six women on a pond at 6:30 in the morning, sometimes it's like bird island. But he was committed to us and I'm sure there were days he thought he'd never get in off the pond when he took us out there.

"He loves this sport. It's in his blood."

Neck deep in the Regatta

On top of the countless hours on the water, as a longtime Placentia Regatta Committee member and current vice-president, he helps run the day's races and is neck deep in everything Regatta related.

As of late, the group has been working with the town council and government agencies towards a $1 million dollar Regatta-grounds redevelopment which includes a new boathouse and launching facility, and a community stage with stadium seating, all part of a complete rearrangement of the current setting.

"We're working day in and day out on that," beams Foley.

Committee president Gene Collins, also born in Southeast Placentia and bred with the same devotion to the sport in his blood, calls Foley a "tremendous volunteer."

"Matty's been a great volunteer over the years," says Collins. "His heart is in the right place when it comes to the Regatta. Anything you want done, it's only a matter of a phone call."

Regardless of how much he else he does, it always comes back to the coxing.

Through it all, Foley figures he has steered for over 75 crews. One year, he took on the challenge of nine in a single regatta.

"I'm a sucker for punishment. I take on more crews than what I should," says Foley, who already has three crews this season with a strong possibility for a fourth. "But I just don't want to see anyone turned away."

One would figure with odds like that over the years, he would have a small collection of championship trophies by now.

"Neither one," says a perfectly contented Foley.

"Yet."

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Sobeys, Foley's, Placentia Regatta Committee member

Geographic location: Placentia, Southeast Arm, Regatta

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Recent comments

  • Pat
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    Wonderful article Matty. Congratulations on your dedication to the Placentia Regatta. I know you since the day you were born and I am sure your Mom and Dad would be very proud of you.

    Hang in there Bridget one day he will call it a career (it won't be soon though I am sure). You are a lucky lady to have Matty and your children are also lucky to have such a wonderful dad. He always has a smile and a hug for me every time I see him when I am out that way.

    Matty you are so lucky to have Bridget and the children who support you in your love of rowing. Keep up the good work and good luck in this year's Regattas.

    Hope to see you soon.

    All the best.

    Pat

  • J
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Great story and indeed Matty Foley is certainly a driving force behind the success of the Placentia Regatta. Would love to have him bring some crews to Harbour Grace on the following weekend. I noticed his daughter is nine.....Matty, we have a group of 8 and 9 year olds rowing over here; tell your daughter to get 5 of her friends together and come over!!! Would love to have you!

  • Pat
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    Wonderful article Matty. Congratulations on your dedication to the Placentia Regatta. I know you since the day you were born and I am sure your Mom and Dad would be very proud of you.

    Hang in there Bridget one day he will call it a career (it won't be soon though I am sure). You are a lucky lady to have Matty and your children are also lucky to have such a wonderful dad. He always has a smile and a hug for me every time I see him when I am out that way.

    Matty you are so lucky to have Bridget and the children who support you in your love of rowing. Keep up the good work and good luck in this year's Regattas.

    Hope to see you soon.

    All the best.

    Pat

  • J
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Great story and indeed Matty Foley is certainly a driving force behind the success of the Placentia Regatta. Would love to have him bring some crews to Harbour Grace on the following weekend. I noticed his daughter is nine.....Matty, we have a group of 8 and 9 year olds rowing over here; tell your daughter to get 5 of her friends together and come over!!! Would love to have you!