They operate with surgical precision at the office, but back in late April, when they climbed into the racing shell for the first time, these six doctors were anything but precise as they struggled to navigate the chilly waters of Quidi Vidi Lake.
“If you looked for the boat that was splashing its way down the pond,” recalls Frank O’Dea with a chuckle, “and being tailed by the rescue boat for the first few sessions, well, that was us.
“But you know what? It all came together.”
O’Dea is the stroke oar for Team Broken Earth, a first-year Royal St. John’s Regatta crew that includes Nick Smith, Carl Moores, Will Moores, Keegan Au, Andrew Furey, spare Art Rideout and cox Eddie Sheerrr.
All, with the exception of Sheerr (he’s the weather guy on the local NTV station), are orthopedic surgeons at the Health Sciences Centre, and have volunteered with Team Broken Earth, the medical charity which conducts overseas medical work (Furey is the CEO of Team Broken Earth).
“I’d been mulling this over for a while, and at our Christmas party I asked the guys if they would they be interested in committing to row as a Team Broken Earth, given that all six of us had been to Haiti (volunteering their medical expertise),” O’Dea explained.
“We’re young, fit and healthy and active, relatively speaking. Everybody gave it consideration, talked it over with their wives and said, ‘Yes, we’re in.’
“That’s where it came about.”
Originally, the team was going to take gag wagering as a way to raise funds for Team Broken Earth — bets on whether the six would win the men’s championship, or get under 10:25 or winning their race.
“Just that kind of fun stuff, but then we thought that maybe we shouldn’t do it that way,” O’Dea said.
“Mainly now our goal is bringing the Broken Earth label to the forefront. It’s been all over social media, on various websites. It’s about exposure, exposure, exposure.
“Every single time we’ve done anything significant with the rowing, there’s been a posting, trying to drum up that ground level support in the community. And it’s worked. People have recognized it, that it’s not just a bunch of doctors who have put a team together. It’s actually the Broken Earth team that’s been put together.”
Most of the rowers have some sports background. Au, for example, was a fine tennis player, Smith swam competitively for the province, while O’Dea ran track and field and played rugby.
“Two years ago, I competed in Fall Fun Regatta with a mixed team of Broken Earth nurses. Me and Art Rideout. Those girls we’re like, ‘You guys should have a men’s team.’ Here we are.”
The seven rolled up their sleeves and got down to work after Christmas, hitting the ergometres at The Works early in the morning.
Sheerr, who rows with NTV, a competitive men’s team, had to show the docs the proper rowing technique.
“We were all over the place with that,” O’Dea recalls with a laugh.
When the calendar flipped to April, the seven prepared to hit the water.
“The first few spins were in plus-three temperatures, minus-four with the windchill,” he says. “We were brushing the snow off the oar. It was brutal, and we were brutal, too.”
If nothing else, these chaps know what perseverance is all about. They’ve all sacrificed many, many years of university and medical school, and that’s before specializing in orthopedics, and perseverance certainly paid off at Quidi Vidi.
They won’t challenge Outer Cove for the championship, but they’ve improved greatly since that first spin.
On a very blustery Saturday earlier this month, Team Broken Earth rowed 12:26.19 in the Time Trials. They’re definitely looking to row under 11 minutes on Regatta Day.
“It’s funny,” O’Dea said, “we had been rowing pretty well, and last week we thought we were somewhere we weren’t. We thought we were going to hit a certain time in our head — 10:30.
“We had three back-to-back-to-back awful spins. Everybody was kind of down on themselves and then on the fourth spin, we lit it up. We rowed faster and cleaner than we’d rowed before, and it was exhilarating. You could feel every surge of the boat.
“I don’t know what happened with those three ridiculous spins, but since then it’s been smooth and everybody feels good and hopefully we can keep that ride going through to the Regatta.”