This past November, Brock rowing alumnus and current lead coach for the Canadian National Adaptive Rowing Program, Jeffrey Dunbrack (BPhEd ’03), led his crew to its first gold medal in New Zealand.
Adaptive rowing is modified rowing for people with disabilities. “We have four boats we race at worlds or the Paralympics,” said Dunbrack. “LTA 4+, which is the only boat we took to worlds, is for athletes with function of their legs, trunk and arms, for example, the visually impaired and amputees. TA 2x is for athletes with function in their trunk and arms such as a double-leg amputee. And the third and fourth boats are men’s and women’s AS1x singles for athletes with arm and shoulder functions, for example, paraplegics.”
Originally from Halifax, N.S., Dunbrack moved midway across Canada to enrol in Brock’s physical education program. While at Brock, Dunbrack ran cross-country and became heavily involved in the rowing program. During the five years he rowed with Brock, Dunbrack was a part of four Ontario and three Canadian teams that won university championships.
Dunbrack began rowing with Brock’s Novice program and quickly developed into an accomplished athlete. “I learned a lot from Joe Dowd and other coaches about rowing, coaching and myself. I feel I was exposed to a culture of excellence and that is what I now try to bring to the Rowing Canada Adaptive National team.”
It was because of this “culture of excellence” that Dunbrack brought his team to train at Brock and local Niagara rowing clubs in preparation for the World Championships. “I chose St. Catharines because I feel it’s one of the best locations in the country [to train]”, explains Dunbrack. “This past summer we lived in Brock residence and trained on the courses in St. Catharines and Welland. We also used the Brock Rowing Centre for some tank work and for weights.”
Dunbrack has great memories of Brock, many of which are rowing related. “Brock was awesome. Most of my memories are about rowing, rowing trips, and winning national championships,” said Dunbrack. “But Brock is also where I met my wife (Monique Bronson Dunbrack, BA ’03). She worked at the central equipment room (cage) and I was working as a sport school instructor in the summer 2001.”
Dunbrack still keeps in touch with fellow Brock grads and coaches. “Fellow alumni rowers are some of my best friends to this day. I also keep in touch with the current rowing coach Peter Somerwil to keep updated on how the program is doing today.”
Somerwil asked Dunbrack to speak at Brock’s Rowing Banquet this past November. He spoke about his time at Brock and his experience at the 2010 world championships and what it took to win the gold medal.
“It was great for the novices to hear how someone who had been in their shoes before them had gone on to succeed both at university and at the highest level of sport,” said Somerwil.
After graduating from Brock in 2003, Dunbrack helped coach Brock’s men’s rowing team, who won the Canadian National Championships for a fourth time. He then moved on to act as head coach for the St. Catharines Rowing Club. While Dunbrack was pursing his dream of working in sport at the Rowing Club, his wife Monique had moved to Ottawa to pursue her own career goals. After a year apart, Dunbrack decided to move to Ottawa to be with her and looked into getting a job within the sport community.
Dunbrack’s first job in Ottawa was as sport development co-ordinator with Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada. He then moved to Wheelchair Basketball Canada and worked as the high performance co-ordinator. He made regular trips to visit the university, often using Brock’s facilities to hold training camps and exhibition games for the national wheelchair basketball team.
“This job got me connected within the Paralympic community,” said Dunbrack. “I got to travel the world with the national team and was the manager of the Canadian team for the Beijing Paralympics (silver medal).”
In early 2010, Rowing Canada posted a position for its adaptive rowing program. “With my experience in rowing, coaching and Paralympic competition, I thought it would be a good fit for me,” said Dunbrack. He accepted the job as lead coach in April 2010.
Although Dunbrack enjoys coaching and being involved in the rowing world, he recognizes that, like any job, it comes with its challenges. “It’s kind of bittersweet. I get to travel to many different countries, however it takes me away from home and my family.”
Dunbrack and his wife Monique are the proud parents of a 17-month-old son named Callum.
- World Rowing Update: Gold For Canada’s Adaptive Coxed Four - Rowing Canada