PROFILE: Larissa Werbicki

Larissa holding up her awards

Floating Her Boat

Brescia student Larissa Werbicki was Western’s 2017 female athlete of the year

If at first you don’t succeed (or even like it), try, try again.

That’s the lesson of Larissa Werbicki’s athletic career. Enrolled in a learn-to-row class by her mother, she didn’t enjoy or excel at the sport at first and resented getting up at 5 a.m. for practice. But that soon changed. In 2017, Werbicki became the first woman in the history of Canadian university rowing championships to win all three lightweight women’s events in the same year, and she was named Western’s top female athlete.

Werbicki was just 12 when she started rowing. Because the club in her hometown of Saskatoon was small, she trained with the masters’ rowers — people in their 50s and 60s with lots of experience and knowledge. “They were people I looked up to,” she says. “I wanted to be as good as them.”

Gradually she was embraced by a sport where perfection is always just out of reach.  “Even the fastest rowers in the world have technical things they want to change,” she says. “It’s great because you always have something new to work on.” She rowed throughout high school, and in her final summer, came third at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, and second in the World Junior Championships in Hamburg.

Western, the home of the women’s national rowing team, was a natural choice. Western’s head coach Matt Waddell suggested that Werbicki consider Brescia. “I loved the close community and small classes,” she says. “I always felt the professors knew me as a person and were very understanding when I had to leave to compete.” She credits Jennifer Coghlin, Brescia’s academic advisor for varsity athletes, with helping her meet many of the challenges of combining academics with elite sport.

In May 2018 Werbicki moved to Victoria to train with the national team, with the goal of making the 2020 Olympics. The regimen is tough: two or three training sessions a day, six days a week. “It’s an exhausting lifestyle — I don’t think I could do it if I wasn’t enjoying it!”

Werbicki says her experience as an elite athlete has taught her many important lessons, including the value of teamwork. “When you’re rowing with someone and you want to make the boat go fast, you don’t have to be best friends. But you do have to work together!”