04/17 2012

A Tribute to Randy Starkman

Randy was a friend.

It was hard to know how much to share with Randy because I felt like he was a friend first. I came to learn I could completely trust him. I can’t tell you how many times we just chatted for hours, face-to-face or over the phone, about everything and anything. So often he was simply a sympathetic ear that I could vent to, as opposed to a sports reporter looking for a dirty scoop.

Although we first connected around his passion for sport, including rowing, we really connected around our families. I think we shared more stories about our daughters over the last 8 years than we did about sport. When I called a colleague today at the COC she said it perfectly: “Although I’ve never met Randy’s daughter I feel like I’ve known her for years.” That’s exactly how I feel.  We often swapped children’s book titles – we knew each other would appreciate hearing about the victories, small and large, of our girls.

Randy often provided me insight into what to expect in the years and months to come as his daughter is a few years older than mine. No matter what the ‘heads up’ was that he provided, his daughter was as close to perfection as he could imagine.  You could hear his love for her in the words he chose when he shared stories – but more than that you could see it in the way his face lit up and in his body language.

I will miss Randy. I will miss not seeing him each time I’m in Toronto. I will miss not sharing my final ‘Olympic-experience’ with him this summer in London. I know that I speak for so many Canadian Olympic athletes when I say he was one-of-a-kind, trust-worthy and his character was of the highest integrity.

But most importantly, Randy was a friend.

My most sincere and heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with his wife and daughter.


(Read more Tributes to Randy at the Toronto Star’s website.)

04/11 2012

Memorable Races from my Rowing Career: 1999 Vienna World Cup, M2-

In the summer of 1999 Morgan Crooks and I were named to the pair for Canada after narrowly winning the Canadian Speed Order Regatta.  Rowing Canada stated that the winner of Speed Orders would be permitted to choose which boat they raced, the 2- or the 8+.  We chose the 2-.

With his hands full preparing Derek Porter (M1X) and the M8+, Deithelm Maxrath (aka Max), the men’s coach at the time, brought Tony Carr on staff to prepare Morgan and myself domestically.  Tony had coached both Morgan and myself in high school and was keen and able to help prepare us for racing.  We only had 2 weeks to figure things out before we headed overseas to race, and Tony’s departing words to us were: “Never doubt yourselves and learn everything you can each step of the way.”

First stop: Vienna.

Morgan and I took heed of Tony’s advice.  We knew enough to keep our heads down – but it was hard knowing that the field was pretty deep.  Entries in the event included the 1996 Olympic Silver Medalists David Weightman and Robert Scott (AUS) and 1997 World Champions Jean-Christophe Rolland and Michel Andrieux (FRA) to name a few.

What else can a young crew do but get stuck in?  And that’s what we did.  We had a rough start to the regatta in the heat and had to race through the reps.  Max was pissed at us for not ceasing the opportunity better – but as the eternal optimist, he refocused us on the rep.  We justified having to race the rep as an opportunity to ‘learn more about ourselves’ as Tony had told us.  We won our rep, and I remember Volker Nolte cheering for us as we walked our boat from the dock to the boat area: “Keep it rolling, Big Boys!”  Max was all smiles too, but he knew we had a big job ahead of us to get through the semis.

The draw for the semifinals came out and we had an unlucky draw – that said, any draw would have felt unlucky for us at that point.  We had to race France, Croatia (World Cup 1 winners) and the USA – who had already beaten us in the heat.  We managed to get the lead off the line and hold it for the first 250 meters…then the field rowed through us!  It wasn’t until the 1000 meter mark that we start to work our way through the field again.  With 500 meters to go we were in third, with 250 we were in second and at the line we got through the Americans by 0.01 seconds – the closet race I’ve ever been in.  The overall finishing order, CAN, USA and Slovenia in third ahead of France and Croatia was a surprise to everyone.

Lining up in a middle lane for the final felt strange – it was a first for me.  We had the USA on one side and GBR on the other.  Slovenia, Greece and Australia were the other boats in the final.  Morgan and I got off the line fast again – leading to the 250.  Almost expecting it, the field rowed through us again.  From there to the 500 we dropped back to 5th, only staying in front of Greece.  We stayed in 5th through the 1000 meter mark.  I was in stroke seat and I remember Morgan saying: “If we’re going to make a move we have to go now!”

In the next 10 stokes we moved past the Slovenians.  We felt super charged – like nothing could stop us!  By 1250 we were in third ahead of the Australians.  Morgan’s calls kept coming and we kept pushing.  With 500 to go we slipped past the Brits and were head-to-head with the USA.  It felt like we were tumbling towards the finish line – a bit like running down hill.

We kept pushing though.  Our last 500 meters were simple: 15/15, 10/10/10, each step trying to go harder!  With 250 left we were moving faster than the Americans and I knew we were going to win.  At the finish line we had beaten Adam Holland and Cyrus Beasley (USA) by just over a second with Stephen Williams and Simon Dennis (GBR) another 0.7 seconds behind them.

That was the first time I had won a Senior World Cup race – and it felt good.  I remember sitting at a street-side cafe later that afternoon with Derek Porter, Marnie McBean, Emma Robinson & Theresa Luke (W2- winners) and Morgan.  Marnie jokingly welcomed us into ‘the winner’s circle’.  At 21 I felt like I had entered a new phase of my rowing career – for the first time I felt I was in control of my destiny.

If you had asked me then if I’d still be chasing after my dream 13 years later I would have laughed!



08/27 2011

Quick, yet long overdue, Thanks!

Fact: The majority of amateur athletes in Canada don’t make huge financial gains.

Fact: 33-year-old fathers-of-two who leave their careers to chase a dream are often accused of having a midlife crisis or mental breakdown.

Fact: Wives who stick with the above stated husbands are often characterized as heroic (or crazy…in love).

I’d like to thank Brad Miller, Alastair MacArthur and everyone at Advanced Marine Technologies for their contributions to my success, sanity and security.  Their commitment to my athletic dream is a testament of their generosity, vision and personal commitment to excellence.  Your support allows me chase this dream, focusing on winning instead of my next mortgage payment.

From the bottom of my heart: Thank you.  From the bottom of my wife’s heart: Thank you.

Dave & Rachel Calder

PS.  I look forward to a time when I learn how to control my own website so I can display your corporate logo in a permanent location.

1 comment
08/23 2011

2011 Rowing World Championship Progression

August 22nd, 2011

Before I post my blog I’d like to take a minute to briefly reflect on the death of Jack Layton.

Having the privilege of representing the red maple leaf of Canada as an athlete I feel tied to all that is good about our country.  I remember attending the flag lowering ceremony during the Sydney Olympic Games to honour the passing of Mr. Trudeau.  As a 22 year old Canadian I had a feeling of loss without a personal closeness to this great leader.

No matter what political view any of us have, we all must agree that Mr. Layton has sacrificed so much over the years to enhance the functionality of our political system – providing a voice for many who have had little or no voice until this year’s federal election.  I can only imagine the toll that the election campaign took on Mr. Layton’s health – a toll that he could not recover from, even with the incredible success he accomplished.

To put what Mr. Layton has done into a sports analogy: he trained for years to race at the Olympics (preparing his party for this year’s election)  The race was run, and Mr. Layton and his team finished winning a silver medal (official opposition status).  En route to the medal podium (the house) and with thoughts of winning a gold medal in 4 more years at the next Olympics (the next federal election) Mr. Layton passed.

Rest in peace Mr. Layton, and my deepest condolences to your wife and family.



On Sunday we race the heat of the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia.  There are 24 boats entered in the men’s 2-, which means there will be 4 heats of 6 boats.  The winner of each heat will advance directly to the semifinals on Friday, while the remaining boats will race in the rep-recharge.  There will be 4 reps with 5 boats each, the top 2 finishers from each rep will also advance to the semifinals.  There will be 2 semifinals on Friday with 6 boats each, top 3 advancing to the final on Saturday.  The progression is typical, while the days we race are not.  We have a new schedule this year so that there are 4 days of finals, Thursday through Sunday, ours being on Saturday.  It will be interesting for our event, and others, to have such a large gap between the heats & reps and the semis & finals.

We are currently in Erba, Italy at our training camp.  We have been here for a week now and have one more workout before we pack up and head to Bled, Slovenia where we will race this year’s championships.  It should be about a 6 hour drive from here to there, but I’m guessing it will be closer to 8 or 9!  Bets?  Kevin Light has taken a few shots of the different boats training here.  Have a look of his shots on his flickr site.



06/30 2011


Each year at our training camp in Erba (northern Italy) we have at least one big storm, which usually includes lightning.  It’s welcomed though because the accompanying rain cools and clears the air, which is usually a humid 36 degrees.  Coming from the west coast I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been faced with lightning there while rowing.  The one that stands out most in my memory happened in Seattle:

It was my freshman year at UW and the legendary John Parker was my coach.  We were about a kilometer from the boathouse, at the finish-line end of the Cut, when a storm rolled in.  John saw the first flash of lightning and hit the throttle of his wakeless launch.  Only as an afterthought did he yell back at us over his megaphone to: “Take the boats back to the Conni!”  His fear of lightning endeared him to us, as that was the first sign of emotion he’d shown us all year that wasn’t perfectly calculated.  Later that year when we painted our class motto on the side of the Cut we remembered John and that stormy day, painting: “Every move is like lightning”.

So here’s my question: How much of a risk is it to stay on the water during a lightning storm?

I started rowing in 1992, 19 years ago, and I have never heard of a case in which a rower has been killed, let alone hit by lightning until today.  When I Google searched it 10 minutes ago I found one story, from last year, of a 16 year old rower being killed by lightning in China.  Before that incident the only rowing specific article I could find about lightning came from The Rowing News in 2000, and listed no specific injuries due to lightning.

Reading through the article in The Rowing News it seems a rower has just as likely a chance of being struck by lightning as a cow does in the middle of a farmer’s field.  As the ‘high point’ on a body of water, even if it is only by 1 meter, a rower will become the target of a lightning bolt – if a lightning bolt so desires to strike.  But what determines if it is going to strike?

If anyone out there has insight into the physics behind lightning strikes, or knows what the odds of a rower being hit by lightning are, please step forward and enlighten me.  In the mean time, as the article in The Rowing News suggested, I will use the ’30-30′ rule.  What’s that you ask? It assumes a rower is safe as long as (a) the gaps between seeing lightning and hearing thunder remain 30 seconds or greater, and (b) that you wait 30 minutes after a storm passes before you head back on the water.

I find the discussion interesting.  Most rowing clubs follow a strict rule that no rowing is to be done during electrical storms.  Is that what keeps us safe?  But missed workouts, even just here and there, have the potential to add up; even in colligate rowing multiple missed workouts can spell disaster for a crew.  Was John too quick to hurry back to the boathouse?  Or is there a real threat to staying on the water during a lightning storm?

I do know this: it would be impossible to win any kind of championships if you were dead.  I didn’t google search the number of cows killed by lightning each year.


Posted in All Blogs, Perspectives
06/22 2011

Athlete Whereabouts

So I’m not sure how to write this post without coming across as a neophyte or as a whiner, but I’m going to write it anyway.  If I come across as either, so be it – sorry.  At least I won’t be the only rower this week to regret writing something he shouldn’t have.

I’ve just spent most of the last 2 hours trying to adjust my Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) ‘Whereabouts calandar’.  After reading on Facebook that there were testers who randomly showed up on my doorstep in Victoria last night (as they do, randomly), I figured I should update my whereabouts (as did several other team members who found themselves in the same situation).

The problem probably doesn’t lie with the system – BUT – every three months I have to fill in my ‘whereabouts’ for everyday, even listing an hour each day where I HAVE to be.  So, if I get it wrong because in 48 days, or 67 days, or maybe 91 days from when I filled it out I’m somewhere other than where I thought I’d be – I have to get back into the system and update those periods (this entire trip for example – I had none of the travel details when I filled in the form at the end of March).

That’s not really the problem though – the problem is that I try to spend as little time as possible every three months filling this calendar in – because I don’t have a ton of extra time – and so I don’t know how to use it very well.  I’ve figured out how to do the quarterly updates in about an hour or two – but then when I go back to ‘update’, it always takes me way too long.  Grrr.

I’d happily carry a GPS tracker at all times if it meant I didn’t have to fill in my whereabouts – sorry CCES.  I appreciate that you are keeping sport in Canada drug free – I just want it to be less frustrating for me when I try to figure out how to report!

Sorry to complain.


05/17 2011

Canadian Athletes Can Fund


Can you remember where you were when Sydney Crosby scored the OT game winner against the USA to win the crowning gold medal of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics?  I thought so!  So do I; I was sitting on the 16th floor of the Shaw Tower in downtown Vancouver.  The entire floor was donated to the Canadian Athletes Now Fund to create the ‘Can Fund House’.  Here was a central place for athletes and their families to be able to meet, relax, eat, upload, download, whatever – it was AMAZING.  Big screen TVs on every wall, Canadian athletes walking in every hour with their 2010 bling – brought to them in part by the support received by the fund.

The Canadian Athletes Now Fund is a non-profit that raises money for amateur athletes in Canada.  They award the fund twice a year.  The fund is valued at $6000 each time it is awarded.  To put that into prospective, as an athlete at the top tier of sport in Canada I earn $18,000 CDN annually from Sport Canada.  The fund tries to raise 2 x $6,000 a year for each athlete.  For the current application period 671 athletes have applied for the fund – I’ll do the math for you: $4,026,000.

Why is this fund important?  The Can Fund puts money in the athletes’ wallet – allowing them to pay for their needs.  We live in a sport system that rewards success.  I agree with this system, especially coming from a sport that enjoys a fairly stable level of success.  That said, as healthy as Rowing Canada’s budget may or may not be, I don’t see any extra cash to pay for the diapers or mortgage.  So when I was notified this week that my application to the fund was successful I sighed a sigh of relief.  But what of the sports that don’t have funding for camps?  For coaches?  For equipment?  There are sports out there – representing Canada right now in which athletes have to pay their National Sport Organization to be able to race for Canada.  These are the ‘have-nots’ of the COC family.  These are the sports that don’t have top 10 finishes; that medals are out of the question.  The trouble I have with the system is that these sports will never succeed without support – but when the pie is only so big, how dilute can we water things down?  It’s impossible to solve without an endless supply of government funding…hint, hint…nudge, nudge.  But when a struggling athlete receives the fund and can cut down their shifts at their job to focus a bit more on training, or can afford to pay their coach for a few more hours of coaching, or can get themselves into equipment made in this millennium – well, that’s progress!  And that is what the Canadian Athletes Now Fund does.  Check out this satirical ad the fund put together some years ago.

So if you want to be part of the Canadian Olympic squad that walks into the stadium in London in 14 more months, and you’ve missed the boat on training for a specific sport – this is your way in.  Check out the fund and set up an automatic monthly donation of $10.  They’ll send you the name of the athlete that you are directly supporting.  The athlete you are putting food on the table for.  The athlete who won’t have to wear training clothes from the 1980’s because of your support.  Now that’s pretty cool.  When they make it to their podium performance you will be standing up there right beside them.

Best wishes, Dave

10/19 2010

A Public Forum

Written for the rowing website  I have been asked to write a blog for them periodically through the worlds.  This is my first attempt:

Here goes my first blog for Somehow writing a blog for my own website is a lot less intimidating than writing for a website dedicated to my peers. So you should know that in writing this blog I’ve had to ask myself what I should write about – what would be interesting, fresh, a reason for people to want to read my thoughts. The problem though is that row2k is a public forum that anyone can read – including those men I’ll be racing in two weeks time. So again, what can I possibly write about? Or does the question become what can’t I write about?

I can’t tell you what we’re doing in training sessions. I can’t tell you if the boat’s going well or not. I can’t tell you much actually. Certainly I don’t want any of our secrets, our potential for an advantage, to fall into the wrong hands – nor do I want to expose any weakness that might give a competitor the edge. What is left to write about?

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years it’s to hold the utmost respect for those I compete against. I think it was Al Morrow of all people, the longtime Canadian women’s coach, who told me never to give my competition a reason to want to beat me. That was in 1994, my first year on the junior Canadian team. My sister Kim McQueen (nee Calder) embodied this principle through her rowing career, teaching me to be gracious in victory and humble in defeat. I believe that I have held true to these ideals over my rowing career – even in the thickest of rivalries.

My friend and crew-mate Rob Gibson and I were talking today about the ‘internet-age’ and how much more thoughtful we all have to be about what we write. Years ago I would have been able to post a comment about Cal on a message board in the locker room at UW without it getting back to Cal. Guys today have to think long and hard about what they post on their Facebook profile or on a personal website…or a blog-post on row2k. A message intended for a handful of friends could very quickly pass to thousands of viewers in a matter of hours. Rob rephrased what Al told me years ago in his own way: “Don’t give anyone a reason to want to pull any harder than they already do.”

Words to live by.


Posted in All Blogs, Perspectives
09/14 2010

My comment on David Asper’s National Post Article

In response to David Asper’s National Post Article:

Think about how the 2010 Games unified this country. The pride we collectively felt for our athletes seeped from our living rooms out into the streets. ‘Canadian Culture’ grew that month. As a nation we realized our athletic potential, realized we were really good at something. After the much anticipated men’s gold medal hockey game our national anthem was sung (but mostly shouted) through the streets of Vancouver and every other community across the country. Culturally, the games were worth every dollar spent.

If we can recreate that pride in communities across Canada, we will also create locally based identities (and economies) that communities will invest in, financially and emotionally. If that takes joint local and federal funding initially for arenas, theatres, or galleries, then all Canadians will be better off for it.

As a three time Canadian Olympic rower and Olympic Silver Medalist, training three times a day, six days a week, for my fourth games, I depend on my wife’s salary and the charity of others to be able to live at or close to the poverty line. We are not rich people, our facilities are not the best in the world, but we are so dedicated to our craft that we force success. I had the privilege of winning Canada’s first medal of the 2008 games.

I know that my story, as with many other Canadian Olympians, has brought Canadians closer and has helped to create a piece of Canadian Culture, Canadian Identity. Could you imagine the power of these stories at a local level? What if they were told more than every four years? Could you imagine if those stories weren’t just of hockey legends, but also of musicians, artists and performers – oh, and don’t forget those brave amateur athletes.

David Calder

03/31 2010

Mood Swings

Camps really test your strength, and I’m not just talking about physical strength.

Here we are, as I said in an earlier note, focusing only on rowing.  As such, when I get off the water from a good row I am happy, and carry that mood into the afternoon or evening.  However, if I have a bad row, or a frustrating row, I also carry that into the afternoon or evening.  There is a compounding effect that can swing the benefit of a camp for days.

One can argue though that a really good athlete can get the most out of any situation.  For me that means that I have to get as much out of rowing the single here as I can, no matter if the other guys are miles ahead of me in the singles, pairs, doubles, fours or quads.

If the single is the boat I am training in then there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get the best training effect out of it…one man…one boat…get it done.

That has been the attitude that I have tried to have here – “embrace the single, learn as much as I can”.  Two days ago I flipped the single three times to learn as much as I can, then yesterday was such a windy day.  Sitting there the wind was pushing me 1.5 metres per second.  That was faster then I was moving when I was rowing into the head wind.  A little laughable, but again – I tried to get as much out of it as I could.  I know that I was rowing really short, so I tried to row longer.  My forearms were so tight from all the tension that I carried dragging my oars along the top of the water, so I tried to get my oars off the water.

Although flipping my boat in calm water metres from the dock didn’t feel totally applicable to me in the really rough water, I know it was because I didn’t just try to survive…I thought about what I was doing a little bit more.  Granted – I did just try to survive at points too.

But I got the miles in – my fitness will benefit – I will benefit – I didn’t give up.  With my boat halfway full of water Mike had us all spin at the dam here on Lake Natoma and do a portion of our long pyramid ladder, 4 minutes with the tail wind and then 3 minutes into the head again.  It wasn’t mandatory, other boats went in, but little moments like that make us stronger, braver and somehow turns a 2K race at the end of the season into something very simple.

In 2003 the final in the 8+ at the worlds had a huge head wind pick up in the last few minutes of the warm-up.  Because of training like last night not a man in the boat flinched and our fearless cox got us better prepared in the warm-up for the wind than the other 5 crews – presumably because we won that race.

I had a sense of pride knowing that I survived the conditions last night, even if it was really ugly most of the time.  But my frustration has been building because I am not getting markedly better in the single.  My fitness is coming back faster then my speed is increasing in the boat.  That pisses me off.  I carried that into the evening along with my tiredness and negativity.  But this is all part of camp, and I forgot about that last night, and went to bed wanting to destroy something.

This morning Morgan Jarvis and I rowed a pair together.  We jumped into the boat last minute – I had already taken my sculls to the dock – the boat was not perfect for us but I was rowing again, not sculling.  My shoes were so small, but I squeezed into them because I just wanted to row the boat so much.  We went out and sorted through a few style differences, and had a great time.  The workout was 10 by 90 seconds, and we did okay.  We weren’t setting world records, but we got stuck in and that is what matters most.  I was getting good training in, we were working well together to try to raise our game, and once in a while we picked off a boat or two.

As you can probably tell from my writing I am in a much better mood than I have been in for a few days – and that will carry into the single or back into the pair this afternoon – whichever boat the coaches need me to row.  I am glad to be here at camp, I don’t want to get in the way of the guys who are fighting for seats for the first World Cup, and I also want to get the most out of this camp for me so that when I return to Victoria I get REALLY STUCK IN and ready to crack into the top boat when the boys return from Bled.


PS.  I have the videos from flipping on the desktop of this computer, but have to process them a bit now.  There may be a few words I don’t want younger audiences hearing as I hit the freezing cold water!  Stay tuned…