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Flood fails to prevent Townsville rowing clubs racing in Penrith

How Townsville clubs went from underwater to on water

In February 2019, the North Queensland town of Townsville was hit with torrential rainfall resulting in extreme flooding across the city. The downpour average was 300ml a day for one week, leaving many homes and buildings flooded and destroyed. Included in the damage were rowing clubs Townsville & JCU and Riverway Rowing Clubs.  

Despite the circumstances these rowing clubs faced, Townsville & JCU and Riverway both have athletes competing at this year 2019 Aon Sydney International Rowing Regatta. We spoke with Stephan Muhlenberg, Head Coach – Rowing, Cathedral School Townsville who works with Townsville & JCU about their experience and journey to get to Penrith for SIRR 2019. 

The clean up at Townsville & JCU Rowing Club (Copyright Townsville & JCU Facebook)

Townsville & JCU Rowing Club is a friendly community-rowing club located on the Ross River close to James Cook University. Run solely by club members who volunteer their time, this local community club is home to all levels of rowers including five local schools. Unfortunately, they were affected by the North Queensland floods and experienced a long recovering period to clean up their sheds and get back into training on the water.

 “The flooding had quite some impact from Australia Day to until the end of Feb until we had our first session back on the water,” said Muhlenberg. Based on the Ross River, the boat club was in a high-risk area when the rain started.

“Lots of people had to be evacuated from their homes, us included, the water started to rise over our jetty and then went through the (Townsville) Grammar shed first, later it come through ours up to about a metre and anything basically on the bottom shelves were damaged,” explained Muhlenberg. The floodwater brought with it debris and mud which damaged the area around the sheds, aswelll as bringing mud and sludge all throughout the sheds. Luckily the Townsville & JCU Rowing club’s jetty survived but it needed to be tested and secured before use, it took about three weeks of recovery until the members were back on the river.

The flooding at Townsville & JCU (Copyright Townsville & JCU Facebook)

Being one metre underwater meant their equipment on the bottom racks was damaged but luckily Muhlenberg was prepared for the flooding, “We were lucky, we took some of our good racing boats out, as I knew they were on the bottom shelves so I put them on the trailer and brought them to higher ground.” Although other clubs weren’t as lucky explained the coach, “Townsville Grammar and Riverway were affected to a larger degree, they were more than one and a half metres underwater, so that was quite severe for them.” Riverway suffered a larger loss of equipment with some of their good racing boats being destroyed.

With the damage caused by the floods there was a lot of work to do, to get the rowing club up and running again and to create a safe environment to row. With the help of the rowing community the club could clean up the sheds and get back onto the water after three weeks. “The community help was amazing, I can really only praise the people and their willingness to help each other,” added Muhlenberg.

Townsville & JCU didn’t let the damage to their boathouse stop them from their training: “You have to take it as it is and do the best with what you can. We did a lot of gym sessions, running and stairs anything we could to stay fit, it definitely has impacted our preparation for Nationals but it’s amazing to see how resilient the kids and their parents are. There were some athletes whose parents had to move out of their houses during our training and they still allowed the kids to train and pursue with their preparation.”

Broken boats (Copyright Townsville & JCU Facebook)

Despite all the circumstances and hardships which they faced, Townsville & JCU managed to make the journey down to Penrith and have six athletes competing in the U17 and U19 male divisions. The group of athletes include Joshua Holcroft, Elliot Basso, Anthony Grech, Zachary Skipp, Jake Golmore and Zachary Judge. Muhlenberg travelled 2500km from Townsville to Penrith with a combined trailer of boats from three clubs and four different schools. “We are picking up new boats for Riverway and Townsville JCU on the way, so I’ve come here with a three-quarter full trailer and will be leaving fully loaded to the rafters on the way back,” admitted Muhlenberg.

Townville & JCU have had a successful Nationals campaign so far with Jack Gilmore and Zachary Judge both through to the Semi-Finals of the U17M1x after finishing top two in their respective repechages. Townsville’s Zachary Judge and his doubles partner Lachlan Donnell-Wales, from Riverway, are also through to the semis in the U17M2X. Townsville & JCU will combine with Riverway for the U17M4x+ and the U19M4x the heats of which are on Wednesday.