Ariel Khoo: Discovering a Passion for Rowing

When Ariel Khoo tried out for a new sport last September, she never imagined that nine months later she would have two national silver medals around her neck.

“I tried rowing because I just wanted to try something new,” says Ariel, who arrived at SMUS as a new Grade 10 student. “I went in thinking I’d do it for personal fitness and learn a new sport at the same time. I didn’t expect this.”

Ariel at the SMUS Rowing Centre.

The “this” she’s referring to is falling in love with the sport and subsequently coxing two boats to nail-biter silver-medal finishes at the Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Championships in Ontario last May.

Ariel began the season as a rower. It was challenging, she says, but she really enjoyed it as she got the hang of it. She was so focused on learning her technique as a rower in those first few months, she “didn’t really pay attention to what the cox did.”

A New Experience

It wasn’t until another coxswain got sick and Head of Rowing Susanne Walker Curry needed a substitute that Ariel realized just how important a role the cox plays.

“At first I didn’t know what to do and I panicked. I saw these two cables on the side of the boat and thought, ‘What is this for?'” she says, in reference to the tiller, which steers the boat. “I thought the cox just sat there and told the boat to row harder on port or starboard; I didn’t realize I was going to be like a coach.”

She remembers feeling bad for the rowers in her boat during her first practice as cox, as they were “zigzagging the boat all the way down the Gorge.” But Susanne saw huge potential and skill in Ariel as a leader, and kept her in a coxswain role through the competitive season.

It took no time before Ariel grew into a confident and skilled cox. She quickly learned that the role entailed a lot more than telling her crew to row harder. As the eyes of the team, the cox is responsible for the safety of the boat and crew, and instructs and motivates the rowers to improve their performance on-the-fly.

“I took a lot of feedback from the rowers in my boat,” she says. “Working together was important; the more we competed together, the more we bonded. That helped me as a cox because I learned what the rowers would need through experience and friendship.”

Ariel began creating race plans that would break a two-kilometre race into 500-metre segments. “For each 500 metres there are certain focuses for the rowers I call out. I got to know them well so I knew what type of calls they need to hear at which part of the race to motivate them, and remind them what they’re pushing for as a team.”

Ariel, centre, with Meg Sheehan, Emma Curry, Emily Selwood and Firinne Rolfe after winning silver at nationals.

The hard work and focus paid off, and Ariel coxed her two boats to first- and second-place finishes at the Brentwood Invitational and Shawnigan Lake regattas in May to qualify for nationals.

Ariel says despite the pressure of being at nationals in St. Catharines, Ontario, the races were all about staying focused and motivated.

“It’s not until we cross the finish line that you let all the emotions start to kick in. For me, it was a lot of screaming and a lot of motivational calls, and the girls really put their everything into it,” she says. “After crossing the finish line, I was so proud of the boats. I could feel the energy they put into the boat and the results showed them that it was worth all the effort they put in during the year.”

Your Support

The two sculls in which Ariel coxed – Integrity and True Blue – were christened in 2014, and purchased with the support the Annual Appeal. The rowing program is heavily supported by donations to the Annual Appeal, as funds raised in recent years have purchased boats, safety equipment, a coach boat, rowing machines, a truck and trailer to transport the boats and more.

“Although we often say, ‘It’s not the boat that makes the crew, but the crew that makes the boat,’ the benefits the athletes derive in all areas of their skills development from the use of this equipment is invaluable,” Susanne says, adding that she attributes the success of our athletes to the continued support from many areas of the school, including donors.

Across our school, the Annual Appeal funds the purchase of athletic equipment, technology, instruments and more to enhance students’ everyday experiences.

Your donation means that SMUS can continue to be a world-class school, providing our teachers with the resources they need to deliver outstanding education in and out of the classroom. By providing technology, instruments, athletic equipment and more, the Annual Appeal allows our teachers to respond to the needs of students and turn great ideas into action.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ and that we really appreciate what we have because we know a lot goes in to supporting what we do,” Ariel adds. 

Looking Forward

Ariel, now in Grade 11, is back training on the water this fall and is helping support the newcomers to the sport. Come winter and spring, she will be training with the competitive rowers with an eye on nationals once again.

“I know how hard it is to start a new sport like rowing, and right now it feels good to be able to help the novices and make sure they know there’s someone in the boat who can support them,” she says. “It’s really important for me this year to continue to improve at coxing and bonding with my teammates.”

It’s those tight-knit relationships, she says, that hooked her on rowing in the first place, and keeps her passionate about her sport.

“The bond between all of us is really strong and everyone pushes each other to do the best we can in training, at practices and at competitions,” she says. “We spend all our time together working towards the same goal; it really feels like a second family.”

Every Student. Every Opportunity

Every day, students are encouraged to explore a vast range of opportunities available to them in athletics, academics, arts, outdoor education, leadership and service. We are a community that supports our students in every aspect of their SMUS journey.

Please join us in supporting our Annual Appeal and help us give every student every opportunity to realize their potential today and for years to come.

Donate online at Annual Appeal or contact Jenny Johnston, Advancement Associate – Annual Giving, at or 250-896-1011.


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