Crew of rowers on calm lake

The Ketchum Girl in the Boat

The Ketchum Girl in the Boat

Q&A With Masters Rowing Champion Tory Canfield

See a brown-haired, ponytailed athlete with a big smile cranking it out on the erg machine at Zenergy? Chances are, it’s Tory Canfield. Considered an instrument of torture by many, the erg is Tory’s secret to success as a champion Masters rower in Idaho. Training solo on an indoor machine isn’t an ideal way to prepare for a regatta, but it seems to work for the Cornell grad. She and her crew captured the World Masters championship in 2017 and 2018, and won the Nationals in 2016. A Ketchum resident and Zenergy member, Tory recently became the first-ever female captain of the Ketchum fire department. In just a few weeks, she’ll head to Boston to compete in the famous Head of the Charles race.

We caught up with Tory to find out more about her life as a competitive Masters rower.

Z: How and when did you take up rowing? 

TC: I grew up as a competitive tennis player but was always intrigued with rowing. My dad rowed in prep school in Philadelphia, and whenever we drove along Boathouse Row on the Scullkyll River, the fluid movement of the crews and beauty of the quaint boathouses called to me. Crew was not available at my high school, so when I started college, I knew I would become a rower. I learned to row as a freshman and made the varsity boat the following fall.

Z: How do you train indoors for an outdoor sport? 

TC: The two things I love most about rowing is being out on the water and working as part of a team. To live here in the valley, it means I do most of my training on the erg: indoors and on my own, which definitely makes it harder. Perhaps the sacrifice helps keep me more focused on the goal at hand. To make the most of my indoor training, I show up with a plan, whether it be intervals or an “hour of power,” so that I don’t let my emotional desires derail the work that needs to get done.

On the erg it’s all about the numbers. The numbers on the screen don’t lie; they tell you whether you’re physically fit enough to win. Because if you can’t do it in training, you won’t magically be able to do it on race day. Of course, everything you have read about rowing in the book The Boys in the Boat is true: Winning takes a lot more than being fit: Technique is crucial, as is the ability to work seamlessly together in the boat. The indoor training prepares me for the physical and mental part of the race – being focused on the numbers and stroke rate and the commitment to pushing through it. The connection I feel with my teammates, the belief that we can win and the ingrained muscle memory of a proper stroke combined with my fitness training prepare me for the race.

I supplement my indoor rowing with weight circuits, cross training and rowing in my single shell at Redfish Lake.

Z: What does winning national and world masters titles mean to you? 

TC: It means a ton to me. In college, we came up short, placing second and third at nationals. At the end of the racing season, while training for nationals both my senior and junior years, I suffered from rib fractures, making every stroke very painful (“click-click”) and keeping me from qualifying for Olympic development camp. My erg times were fast enough, but I was just shy of the qualifying standard for the bench pulls. After graduating, I took a break from rowing for a while and then returned to race as a Masters rower with my alumni teammates. We found that we were still a force together and did well in races in Boston and San Diego, igniting our desire to compete at the national and world levels. Injury again sidelined me – this time a back injury, which seemed impossible to fully heal. My health care providers told me I should consider that I would never row again. With perseverance, and lots of support from my friends and family (many from Zenergy), I overcame that hurdle and saw victory at the Masters 2016 Nationals and the 2017 and 2018 World Championships. The victories are even sweeter when I am pulling for not just myself and my teammates, but also for all the people who have supported me.

Z: Explain your love/hate relationship with the erg. 

TC: Although the races can be short, sometimes lasting only four minutes, the intensity during that time makes your body scream “stop” every stroke. Rowing well on the erg means ignoring the fact that it is painful, lonely and not on the water. The erg is good for mental toughness training. The numbers on the erg don’t lie – they keep you honest about how intense your workouts are and are an integral part to preparing for a race. Once the workout is over, however, it is a great feeling!

Z: What do you love about competing?

TC: When I get to the start line, the noise of the world disappears: I am entirely focused. I love turning my brain to autopilot and submitting to the intensity and rhythm of each stroke, the swing of rowers and feeling of commitment to each other.

This quote from The Boys in the Boat really strikes a chord when I think about what I love about competing:

“It was when he tried to talk about ‘the boat’ that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his eyes…Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that ‘the boat’ was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both – it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience – a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.” ― Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Z: What’s your general approach to nutrition? 

TC: Veggies. I eat a vegetarian diet with eggs and some fish added to balance out my protein needs. I generally try to eat unprocessed foods and avoid things that come in packaging as much as I can. That being said, I’m susceptible to being on the run and to prevent getting “hangry,” I rely on eating “bars” more often than I probably should. 

Z: How do you fuel up before a race? 

TC: I try to stick with what my body is used to and eat at least three hours before the race. I usually have oatmeal with almond butter and banana, something easy to digest with added protein.

Z: How do you deal with pre-race jitters? 

TC: The night before every race, I visualize the race – stroke for stroke. If my mind veers off, I make myself start again from the top exactly as the race should go. I usually fall asleep before I mentally get through the first quarter of the race. In the morning, I’m ready to go.

Z: What do you do for cross training?

TC: I love to trail run, mountain bike, Nordic ski and swim. Putting time in the weight room for both strength conditioning and stretching is also an integral part of my training program.

Z: Who is your athletic hero and why? 

TC: There are a lot of local athletes whom I admire and am inspired by. Charlie French is one of my favorites. He always has a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye and is a badass. His enthusiasm and love of sport is contagious and inspiring. I hope that I am still competing and taking on life like that when I’m in my 90s.

Interview by Stacy Whitman