My name is Mario Laing, I rowed for Chile in the lightweight single sculls when the World Rowing Championships were in Tasmania in 1990. I was born in Chile, and my dad Mario was the stroke of the Chilean Coxless Four that rowed at the South American Championships in 1970, around the time I was born. My Dads father, Ramon was the stroke of his crew and never beaten in his whole rowing career. After retiring he became a rowing coach, ready and willing to pass on the joy that he experienced as a rower to a new generation of young people.
Rowing is a sport that is passed down from one generation to the next. My dad introduced me to rowing at the age of 9, when I became a member of the “Italian Club”. Rowing was brought to Chile by the migrants from Italy, Germany and Spain who realised it was a sport that should be shared with the world. As a result kids from all walks of life can row in Chile and enjoy the friendships and bonds that are forged through the sport.
When I came to Australia with my family as a 16 year old migrant in 1986, I found myself longing to row the single once again. It was that longing that moved me to go to Melbourne University Boat Club one day to meet the recently crowned world lightweight sculling champion, Peter Antonie.
Peter then took me under his wing for a couple of years and taught me how to scull and race while another sculler John Mackienzie lent me his beloved scull so I could train. In 1990, Jeff Sykes sponsored my row at the world Championships by letting me borrow one of his fast single sculls and the Australian coach Marty Owen (R.I.P) wrote me a training program and coached me. If it wasnt for these people’s generosity of spirit I would not have been able to row.
This year I am 51 years old and I feel that the sport of rowing has given me an amazing life and its time to give back.
I am a Physical Education teacher at St Johns Regional College in Dandenong, where we have a very multicultural population of kids who have never seen a rowing race or a rowing boat in their life, who would benefit greatly from the hard work and dedication that is required to pursue this sport at any level. With the National Water Sports Centre a short drive away, we are perfectly placed to have a rowing program.
Rowing is not a sport that my students have had much exposure to, so a lot of my work is educating them about the life long benefits of the sport and its proud history. We have been the recipient of a Rowing Australia Grant to borrow 6 Rowing machines, and we are in the process of organising a House Rowing Cup, where we will select the best 4 boys and girls to row in quads and represent the school In the local school regattas by the end of the year.
Sue Chapman Popa and Wesley college donated 4 doubles sculls, John Darbyshire from Shepparton Rowing Club donated 2 quads and Tom Woodruff from Scotch College donated a quad set of oars. At the moment, I am in need of another coxed quad, sculling oars and a rowing trailer. The school is registering the initiative with the Australian Sports Commission for tax deductible donations, so I may be able to pay an amount at a later date if an agreement could be reached.
The National Water Sports centre is currently looking at the possibility of letting us out some space for a boat shed, and before we all can say COVID is GONE, St Johns will have a rowing program and the kids from the Southern Suburbs will have access to learning the “Sport of Kings”.
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