Argonaut Olympian Issue #2
We are honouring our past and present Olympians by documenting their achievements and establishing a permanent archive. An Argonaut Olympian is an athlete who has been a competitive member of the club prior to competing at the Olympic games. Until 1972, athletes represented their club as well as their country at the Olympics. In 1976 a national team system was developed in Canada, thus ending club representation at the games. Other than footnoting this difference, there is no other discrepancy between the two systems for the purpose of this exercise.
The Argonaut Rowing Club has fielded more Olympic crews than any other club in North America while that system existed fielding a total of thirteen entries. Many more members have competed in National Team programs and have been winning gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships with consistency for nearly three decades.
This is the second of the series, compiled non-chronologically of our athletes that have donned the double blue and gone on to compete in the Olympic Games.
Part 2 – Mara Jones – 2004 Athens Olympics - Games of the XXVIIIth Olympiad
These days, the notion of rowing at the Olympics occupies little space in the consciousness of Argonaut Olympian Mara Jones. Her success in life not only lies in her ability to plan and execute but also in her ability to move on.
This is clear as she now devotes her energy to her current passion as an orthopaedic surgeon. She has catalogued and tucked away her rowing experiences but draws on them, when needed, to fuel her career or find her way.
Champions are not born; they are forged in human foundries with a special alloy of mettle, spirit and heart. This is her story.
The hook, McGill recruits their own
While many Olympians got their start rowing in high school programs, growing up in land-locked Aurora, Ontario, left rowing off the sports radar for Mara Jones. In fact, the sport she gravitated towards in high school was cross-country running. This would all change when she moved to Montreal to pursue an undergraduate degree. A chance encounter with members of the men's rowing squad on a recruitment drive convinced her to give it a try. Seemingly, it looked like fun so she joined but after the third practice quit for the season a little taken aback with the demands of the sport. But she did return the next season and the next two thereafter enjoying a successful run rowing crew for McGill.
Mara returned to Toronto to pursue an MSc at U of T and since the University ran their rowing program out of the Argonaut club at that time, we became her home club. It was then she started showing glimpses of her potential as an elite athlete; driven and determined to reach higher in the sport. This included getting up at 4 AM every day and driving from Aurora to the Argonaut club to train.
The wins came quickly. Her Argonaut crewmates comprising of Annie Hodkin, Jeany Ellis and Kristann Van Rooyen rowed the lightweight women's straight four, coxed four (coxed by Olympic gold medalist Brian Price) and quad together stacking up a win at the Head of the Charles in 1997 and three Henley gold medals in the next two years in these three boat classes.
She rowed with fellow Argo Jeany Ellis for U of T in the lightweight women’s double and were Ontario University Champions in 2000 and just narrowly missed Henley gold that year. Many rowers have an intensity about them that could be described as ‘less than kind’ however Jeany recalls with fondness Mara's rather quirky, humourous side as being the perfect antidote to the rigours of training. After making weight she would indulge in a get-it-back meal of meatball sub, pie and ice cream – for breakfast! While racing with Jeany in gale force winds at the Ontario University Championships in St. Catharines, Mara in bow, was hit in the face by a huge wave and instead of panicking, she sputtered, laughed at the spectacle of it all and they went on to win the race by a huge margin.
Before and after the gold medal win at Henley in the Ltwt Women's 4X, the third Henley gold for these women winning the 4+ and the 4- the prior season. From bow: Jeany Ellis, Kristann Van Rooyen, Annie Hodkin, Mara Jones.
Mara was used to waves, at the 1999 Ontario championships she was pummeled by hail after launching her single and a subsequent storm surge hit her boat, capsizing and washing her in the torrent downstream. She thought she was ‘done’ until she managed to find her orange oar handle in the tempest. She was able to grab it and cling to her shell until she was rescued almost a kilometer downstream. Shaken but not broken she went right back at it, and kept winning. In fact within five years of her summer learning to scull with Annie Hodkin she was rowing for Canada on the National Rowing Team.
“she is focused, driven and hardworking … she exemplifies the ordinary person who does extraordinary things and would likely never admit to how accomplished she is” says Ellis.
Mara was carded for the National Team after her spectacular win in the single (2002) at Henley beating the field by seven seconds. She followed this up with Henley gold in the quad that summer in which she competed for Riverside BC having spent the prior year working in Boston.
There are 14 Olympic boat classes and a total of 46 seats available if your country was to qualify every boat class (rare). Of the 46 seats only two are made available to lightweight women vs 21 for heavyweight men and 17 for heavyweight women so Mara, being seeded in the top 3 or 4, felt little assurance that she would make the Olympic crew of two; so she responded. That involved putting Med school on hold and moving to Victoria to train full time. As visualized, planned and executed she made the boat in 2003 and raced at her first world-level event finishing 5th with partner Shona McLaren at the Milan FISA World Rowing Championships. She went on to win gold at two FISA World Cup Regattas, compete at the 2004 Olympic games, was World Champion in 2005 in the lightweight women's 4X and for good measure was voted Ontario Female Athlete of the Year also in 2005.
Mara Jones and Fiona Milne race at the 2004 Athens Olympics
Interview with Mara Jones
GS What was your motivation to take up a fringe sport such as rowing?
MJ I did my undergrad at McGill, the men’s rowing team was hosting an open air pub and actively recruiting new prospects. It looked like fun so I joined. On the third day of practice it was raining hard and I didn’t want to risk the 9K trip to the Olympic Basin figuring it would be cancelled. Next day the coaches told me that rowing takes place rain or shine….as a first year undergrad student my priorities were elsewhere. The following year however I decided to try out again and this time stuck with it and continued for the next 3 years.
GS You started as a sweep rower and switched to sculling, why?
MJ I originally rowed crew at McGill and then in the Argos lightweight women’s program but later decided to take up sculling. I rowed the ’98 season with Annie (Hodkin). She sat in bow and taught me how to scull.
GS In 2002 you won Henley (LW1X) by several boat lengths. The real story is how you got there. Only one boat from each semi made the final, what happened in your race?
MJ The reason the semi was so tough for me was that with about 400 M to go I must have caught weeds on my fin or the stroke coach impeller as suddenly my boat speed slowed tremendously. My splits went up to 2:30 and boats started closing on me. I wasn’t going to lose a chance to race in the finals so I just started pulling harder. About 100 M left my hands and neck were tingling and I think I was close to blacking out. I stopped at the finish line docks for a good 20 minutes but I was still too dizzy to row the boat back so I had to get a volunteer to do it for me…
GS At what point in your career did you feel like you had a real shot at making the National Team?
MJ Making the National Team was a bit touch and go the first year I was carded (2002) as they were only boating a 2X for the worlds and I had a huge gap to make up in order to be on par with the other girls that had been on the team for a number of years. I just kept plugging away and gradually started to be more competitive. I don’t think there was any point that I knew for sure I would make the boat, but I knew I was going to keep persevering until I did!
After my win at Henley (2002 1x) I started Med school. I found out that I was going to be a carded athlete and my plan was to finish a year of school while training independently in Toronto then head out to speed orders in May. By the fall of 2002 I knew that I would have to move out west and commit myself to training full time or I would never be able to break the ‘inner circle’. With some luck and a lot of hours in the single I managed to make the double in 2003 and race at the Worlds.
GS Having beat Germany, the Olympic favourites, at the Lucerne World Cup regatta in 2004 you were vaulted from relative obscurity to becoming medal hopefuls. Tell me if this change in context and increase in media attention affected your focus on racing.
MJ It didn’t really. We trained hard and were ready to race. We knew the other crews and we had beaten them in the past. We made some technical errors in the heat and then the repechage that we couldn’t seem to recover from. It was disappointing; we thought we had a real shot at a podium finish. The media attention wasn’t really distracting, it didn’t affect our ability to race.
GS You retired from competition in 2006 at or near the top of your game. What was the process that led you to your decision?
MJ It was a hard decision. In Olympic rowing there are only two seats in total – the double – for lightweight women. Your seat was never guaranteed and in order to make the boat you had to commit everything to training. I wanted to race at the Olympics again to have another shot at a medal but I wasn’t into the process. It was then I knew I was in it for the wrong reasons so I retired. I wavered for a bit as to whether it was the right decision or not but once I got busy with medical school I had to leave it behind once and for all.
GS If you accept the notion that life is simply a series of defining moments, tell me about your finest rowing moment.
MJ I have several moments all with a similar theme. It is the point in a race, an erg test, a hard training session where my body is telling me to stop, my legs are burning and I know that I either keep pace or embrace the pain and push harder. The moments I remember are those where I made the decision to stop thinking and lay everything out. The ones that are outstanding involve doing this in unison with my double’s partner.
GS How, if so, has rowing helped you in medicine and in life?
MJ It’s taught me that we have high limits mentally and physically. We can persevere and set higher thresholds of endurance. As humans, we can adapt and do things we didn’t think were possible. In rowing you can focus on a boat that seemed unbeatable in the past and if you work hard enough and challenge yourself you can win the race, if that is your goal…
GS What advice can you offer our athletes, esp. our younger rowers on reaching their goals. In other words is there something in particular they MUST do advance to the upper levels in this sport?
MJ Most importantly, know who you are competing against, it’s yourself. Push yourself to beat your standard from the day before and use that success to fuel yourself for the next day’s challenge.
GS What was it like rowing with Annie Hodkin?
MJ Annie and I made a great partnership because I think we have the same approach to training and racing. She is a fierce competitor and loves to race. She pushed me hard from the bow seat and was very patient to race with a novice sculler for an entire summer/fall season. We had a lot of laughs together, got into ‘trouble with the club’ crashed into quite a few buoys/bridges but had a great time throughout it all. Hopefully in the future we can get back into the double again and tear down the Argo course!
The After (rowing) Life
If ethos were currency, Mara Jones would be a wealthy woman. Currently, an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Jones has again found success on several fronts. She is married with children and living in Toronto and by all accounts has moved on from those heady days on the National Team. Though sometimes she can be spotted gliding her single along our watercourse, occasionally taking a detour up the Humber river, seldom refusing a challenge to race back…
Mara Jones - Rowing Bio, Notable Achievements
- 1974 - Born and raised in Aurora, ON.
- 1994 - Started rowing crew at McGill University while completing a BSc. degree
- 1997- Started rowing crew for U of T and Argonaut Club while completing an MSc. Degree
- 2001- Moved to Boston to work, row for Riverside for one year
- 2002- Carded for the National Rowing Team – moved to Victoria, B.C. to train
- 2003 - Made the Lightweight women’s double, competed at World Championships
- 2004 – Competed at the Athen’s Olympic Games
- 2006 – Retired from National Team, returned to Med School at U of T
- Coaches - ARGOS: Carolyn Klepak, Anne Hodkin, Peter Code,
- NAT TEAM: Terry Paul, Pat Newman, Laryssa Biesenthal
- 1997 – Head of the Charles Gold Ltwt Womens 4+ Argos
- 1998 – Henley Gold Sr. Ltwt Womens 4+ Argos
- 1998 – Henley Gold Sr. Ltwt Womens 4- Argos
- 1999 – Henley Gold Int. Ltwt 4X Argos
- 2000 – Head of the Charles 2ndLtwt Womens 1X ARC
- 2001 – Head of the Charles 4th Ltwt Womens 1X ARC
- 2002 – Henley Gold Sr. Ltwt 4X Riverside
- 2002 – Henley Gold Sr. Ltwt1X Riverside 7:54.97
- 2002 – Head of the Charles 5th Ltwt womens 1X ARC
- 2003 – FISA World Rowing Championships Milan 5th Ltwt Womens 2X
- 2004 – FISA World Cup Munich Silver Ltwt Women’s 2X
- 2004 – FISA World Cup Lucerne Gold Ltwt Women’s 2X
- 2004 – Olympic Games Athens 8th Ltwt Women’s 2X
- 2004 – Head of the Charles Gold Ltwt Women’s 8+ Riverside
- 2004 – Monster Erg Champs Gold 7:07.2 Rowing Canada
- 2005 – FISA World Rowing Championships Gifu Gold Ltwt Womens 4X
- 2005 – Head of the Charles Regatta Gold Ltwt Women’s 8+ Rowing Canada
- 2005 – Ontario Female Athlete of the Year
- 2006 – FISA World Rowing Championships Eton 4thLtwt Womens 2X
- 2006 – FISA World Cup Lucerne Gold Ltwt Women’s 2X
- (also multiple Argonaut Oarswoman/Sculler of the Year awards)
Medal Count - Rowing Events – Games of the XXVIIIth Olympiad – Athens, GR
| Great Britain
GRANT SOMMERS 2012