All in the same boat

In the case of the Smyths, the family that grows together, rows together

Robin Short
Published on June 25, 2007
The Smyth clan will compete at this years 189th Royal St. Johns Regatta Aug. 1. The Smyth Crew, in a racing shell following a spin on Friday night, will be guided by coxswain Michelle Davis as she steers Smyth brothers crew of stroke David, No. 5 John, No. 4 Garry, No. 3 Frank, No. 2 Chris and No. 1 Jim. Their co-coach is nephew John Smyth Jr. kneeling by their biggest supporter at pondside this year their mother Isabel. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Considered the provinces largest single-day garden party, the annual Royal St. Johns Regatta has become a centrepiece for many a family gathering each and every August.

But these assemblages arent merely restricted to the banks of Quidi Vidi Lake. The Regattas history books are lined with familiar family names amongst its crews, from the Rings and Barringtons, who grew up on the shores of Quidi Vidi, to the Powers of Outer Cove, whose participation in the Regatta dates back generations.

A step further

This year, the Smyths will take the family thing a step further, as no less than nine family members comprise you guessed it Team Smyth in one of the masters (45-years and over) mens races Aug. 1.

Rowing are six brothers Dave is the stroke followed by John, Gary, Frank, Chris and Jim. Steering the team is Michelle Davis, Franks daughter. Mary Smyth, a sister of the rowers, is the manager and John Smyth Jr. is the coach.

Their biggest fan, and the inspiration behind the teams formation, is the familys matriarch, Isabel, who watches each spin with pride from the shore.

Other than John Sr., who rowed Quidi Vidi as a teen, the rowers are all Regatta rookies. But theyre getting expert guidance from their cox and coach, who won Regatta championships with the 2004 Jungle Jims womens team and The Independent mens crew in 2005.

Im not sure I wanted to cox, said Davis, who walked away from the pond on top after winning it all three years ago, because I get enjoyment out of rowing.

But they wanted to keep the family together and John Jr. is committed to rowing. Im actually surprised the satisfaction I get out of steering. And the fact my father and my uncles are in the boat definitely makes it special.

The Smyth boys grew up on Kings Bridge Road, where the aroma of cotton candy wafted through their back yard and strains of fiddle music could be heard the first Wednesday of August every year.

It was at Gary Smyths Outer Cove home last summer that the idea to row in the Regatta came about.

For starters, the races have always been a big part of their lives. But perhaps most important was doing it for their mother, who is getting on in years, but is still sharp as a tack and a keen observer of the sports scene.

Shes one of those persons, Frank Smyth said, who is always around the pond watching the crews row and people walking. She religiously followed the Regatta on TV and shes really getting a big kick watching us.

Sentimentality aside, it takes a whole lot more than the romance of competing in whats said to be North Americas oldest continuing sporting event to get one through 10 or 11 (or in the case of the Smyths) 12 minutes of furious labour.

We all had to buy into it, Frank said. Its a big commitment.

Committed to training

All six rowers joined a gym and committed to getting into some relative kind of conditioning. Since the boats have hit the pond, theyve been rowing once a day and expect to soon start taking twice-daily spins.

The frustrations of learning to row properly have not resulted in quibbles among the team. Luckily for the brothers, there is no substantiation to the old adage about familiarity breeding contempt.

Its quite the opposite, actually, Frank Smyth said. This has been quite rewarding, a positive experience.

Rewarding, too, for their coxswain, who describes the family as a close-knit group.

Each of the rowers, Davis said, has been open to constructive criticism. Good thing, considering they climbed into the boat in May without even knowing what a footing was.

Theyre really coming along fine, she said. I think if they row 11 minutes theyll probably be thrilled.

The irony of situation isnt lost on the 29-year-old coxswain, who recalls her father driving her to the Boathouse as a young girl for an early morning practice, and staying around to watch her row.

Now its him, she said with a giggle, who wants to be down there every morning and every evening.

Its definitely something special. The Regatta is something that I was a part of so long and something that Ive been crazy passionate about. Seeing that passion come out in them gives me a great deal of satisfaction.