If you’ve never heard of Jamie Abbass’s rowing career before, don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about it in the near future.
The 28 year old from Goose Bay, who is also the son of mayor Leo Abbass, has emerged as a world-class athlete.
Abbass is eight years into his rowing career and has already amassed an impressive resume. He’s won many medals aboard four-man and eight-man boats. In the 2011 and 2012 National Rowing Championships he placed fourth while rowing single. As a testament to his skill, Abbass nearly made the first 30-man cut for Canada’s Olympic camp in 2012.
“In my opinion, I was the next guy,” says Abbass. “I knew they were going to take four scullers (rowers who use two oars). I placed fourth in Nationals. I hoped that would get me the invite, but they took a guy ahead of me.”
Even if Abbass made the first 30-man cut, making the Olympic squad would have been a long shot. The squad would later be cut down to a final 16 to send to London.
From the beginning, Abbass knew he wasn’t a favourite to make the Olympic team in 2012. But he has higher expectations for the 2016 games.
“I hadn’t really raced internationally. I had no experience being at world championships,” says Abbass. “There were guys with eight years of (international) experience ahead of me. So 2012 was a long shot. When I look at 2016 I think it’s very realistic.”
Growing up in Goose Bay, Jamie was a typical Abbass in terms of athletic interest. He played hockey, volleyball, wrestling, badminton and soccer. But his only experience racing in a canoe came while paddling in the local regatta.
Abbass didn’t discover the joy of rowing until he was home one summer from Memorial University. One of his cousin’s female rowing team was practicing for a competition in Labrador City and a rower was sick. So Jamie rowed with them for a practice to fill in.
“I couldn’t get over how fast it was,” says Abbass.
That experience in the boat got Abbass hooked. When he went back to St. John’s, he tried out for the Canada Games rowing team.
“I had to do a two km test on the rowing machine. I did very well but I was a month too old for the Canada Games here.”
Still, going to the tryouts was still a wise move for Abbass. The coach of the St. John’s Rowing club was there and asked Abbass to join the MUN rowing team. Thus began his competitive rowing career. His first competition took place in Montreal for the Canadian University Rowing Championships.
“We didn’t do so well,” says Abbass with a laugh. I think we were 13th out of 15 or 16 crews.”
In 2008, Abbass moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to start a career as an analyst for the pension company, Morneau Shepell. His rowing career didn’t end with the move. Abbass joined the Fredericton Rowing Club, where his fellow rowers noticed him.
“He’s definitely focused. He ate, slept, and breathed rowing,” said one friend and former Fredericton teammate. “He was hyper focused…he’s pretty tenacious and determined.”
Thanks to his employer, who allowed him to do a lot of work around his rowing schedule, Abbass made great strides with the Fredericton Rowing Club. In 2009 he was named the club’s senior male rower of the year.
Currently, Abbass is living in British Columbia, and plans to move to Victoria to continue his intense training. His main goals for 2013 are to represent Canada in World Cup rowing.
John Wetzstein has been coaching Abbass at the National Development Centre in British Columbia over the past year. He sees a bright future ahead of Abbass in rowing.
“He’s pretty exceptional…he’s got a tremendous attitude and work ethic,” says Wetzstein. “He’s an athlete I never worry about motivating.”