It’s fair to say karate’s loss has been rowing’s gain.
Before embarking on a prestigious rowing career that took her all the way to the podium at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Janine Stephens took karate classes. It was in one of these classes that someone suggested she try rowing.
"Someone asked if I wanted to try the sport, as I was tall and athletic," said Stephens, 38, who began rowing in 2000. "I had nothing on that summer between my Grade 11 and 12 years, and I thought I’d try something new."
The rest, as they say, is rowing history. Since retiring as a competitive rower, Stephens has become the head coach of the provincial rowing team, Team Manitoba. She also served as president of the Winnipeg Rowing Club for a period. The Norwood-based club, where her office is based, has been a mainstay in Stephens’ life ever since she first took to the water.
"Winnipeg Rowing Club is where it all started, and I’ve spent many, many hours going up and down the Red River," she said.
Stephens was speaking to Canstar Community News recently in the spotlight of National Coaches Week, which ran from Sept. 18 to 26. Officials say the purpose of the annual campaign is to celebrate the positive impact coaches have on athletes and their communities across Canada, providing an opportunity for individuals to recognize and thank coaches for the integral role they play.
As provincial head coach, Stephens currently works with 12 high-performance athletes aged between 16 and 25. She said that while she happens to coach high-performance rowers in her current role, she loves coaching people of different ages and abilities and monitoring their improvement.
"I love watching the improvement of athletes over time, and I try to create an environment where they can come, work hard, and be themselves. I also try to make it fun, not least because people are involved with so many other activities these days," Stephens said.
"Of course, not everybody’s goal is to go to the Olympics, as some rowers are 13 and some are 70, for example. There’s not just one path to success. In my case, if I can draw the best out of them, and see some improvement, then I’m really happy."
Self-improvement is also important to Stephens, who is currently undertaking an advanced coaching diploma through the Coaches Association of Canada, which she started in April.
"I love it, because it’s helping me improve myself and my coaching. It’s an amazing program," she said.
In a competitive rowing career that spanned more than a decade, the St. James resident competed in numerous events in various disciplines around the world and medalled many times.
According to the Manitoba Rowing Association’s website, these events include the Canada Summer Games in 2001; the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in 2005; the world championships in 2007, 2010 and 2011; and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Stephens also rowed for the University of Michigan from 2002 to 2006, where she obtained a degree in kinesiology and movement science.
In the final competitive race of her illustrious career in 2012, Stephens pulled out all the stops to bring home an Olympic silver medal as part of Canada’s women’s eights team.
At press time, Stephens — an alumna of St. Mary’s Academy — was looking forward to attending a pandemic-friendly, 20-year school reunion.
Go online at rowingmanitoba.ca for more information.
Simon Fuller is the reporter/photographer for The Lance. Canstar’s senior reporter, he joined the team in June 2009 to write for The Sou’wester, which was then the new paper in the Canstar family.