Finding Heaven on the Banks of the Rotsee

by Ed Moran, | May 21, 2016
Standing near the recovery dock on the Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland Friday afternoon, Reilly Dampeer was in her version of “heaven made on Earth.”
r1LUCRENE, Switzerland – Standing near the recovery dock on the Rotsee in Lucerne, Switzerland Friday afternoon, Reilly Dampeer was in her version of “heaven-made-on-Earth.”

There are several good reasons for her to feel that way. Four years ago, she was coaching Stephen Whelpley (Mequon, Wis.) and Willy Cowles (Farmington, Conn.) as they were attempting to make the 2012 Olympic team in the double. They got as far as trials, but no further.

The trio separated and through the 2016 Olympic cycle, Whelpley and Cowles kept rowing in different scenarios, always with the idea of making a boat that would row in Rio de Janeiro, while Dampeer kept coaching at Potomac Boat Club in Washington, D.C. Finally, in December, Whelpley and Cowles decided to come back to the double and to the coach they had worked with four years earlier.

The road they set out on was not easy. The double is not yet qualified for the Olympics, and before Whelpley and Cowles could have the chance to make that happen here at the 2016 Final Olympic Qualification Regatta, they needed to win trials in the U.S.

But there was a second problem. One that – in the bigger life picture – eclipsed all three of their dreams. Dampeer was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer last July. She needed surgery followed by aggressive chemotherapy.

Five months after undergoing the many medical procedures she needed, Dampeer was healthy enough when the call came from the Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont, where Whelpey and Cowles trained.

“I was done with treatment in January,” Dampeer said. “And the first thing I did was drive down to Florida and get in the motorboat with these guys. We would have gotten together sooner, but since February, I’ve done as much as I can working with these guys getting them up to speed.”

r2And so far, the work is paying off. Whelpley and Cowles won trials and begin racing Sunday in the hopes of finishing top two and earning a place on the Rio team.

“We were all aware of what Riley was going through,” Whelpley said. “And it’s all the more commendable that as soon as she had a clean bill of health, she was in her car, on the way to Florida, where we were training.

“Something like that, recovering from what she did and heading to where we were to coach us, I find it hard to believe that many people rival her passion for the sport,” he said. “I talk a lot, and I have a lot of opinions and we have differences, but the one thing I always know is how committed she is to the sport, and how much she really wants to make us faster.”

For Dampeer, winning trials was “a very special moment."

“Trials was four years in the making. It was the thing we had tried to do four years ago And there we were again, same athletes, with me. It was incredible. It was a very special moment, but it became immediately not that important, relative to the task at hand,” she said.

“I am so grateful to work with any double, but this double is special. I could not ask for a more ideal opportunity than this, after what I have been through in the past year. This is my 'heaven-made-on-Earth,' being on the shore in Lucerne with these two guys.”
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