Cowichan Valley rower takes aim at the moon

The 14-year-old took part in the Row to the Moon Challenge

Maple Bay Rowing Club member Anya Prokopchuk racked up more metres than anyone else in the 13-14 age group in the international Row to the Moon Challenge. (Submitted)

Over the course of 11 days in May, Anya Prokopchuk got closer to the moon than most of us ever will.

A member of the Maple Bay Rowing Club, the 14-year-old took part in the Row to the Moon Challenge, a collaborative effort between Rowing Canada and its equivalent organizations in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. Prokopchuk rowed 108,800 m, farther than any other participant her age — male or female, and finished in the 90th percentile among more than 1,000 rowers representing more than 30 countries and territories around the world.

With all rowing shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MBRC allowed members to take rowing machines home to keep up their fitness. The aforementioned national rowing bodies, meanwhile, created some events of their own to keep rowers active and provide some competition. The first was a one-minute challenge, where participants compared their best results from one minute on a rowing machine. Following that came the Row to the Moon Challenge, in which all participants together tried to row enough metres to reach the moon.

Prokopchuk took part in the challenge with the express intent of winning her age group.

“I guess I’m really motivated by accomplishments,” she said. “It’s just nice to see my name up there on the leaderboard and stuff.

“I also wanted to help out Team Canada. They didn’t do so well in the minute challenge.”

Prokopchuk also participated in the Minute Challenge, in which Canada finished second to Great Britain in average metres per rower, but last out of the four nations in total metres. Prokopchuk herself rowed 295 m, 10th in F13-14 age group and third among lightweights, although when she weighed herself a few weeks later, she realized she wouldn’t have been a lightweight.

The 1,042 participants in the Row to the Moon Challenge accumulated 51,982,869 m in all. While that fell short of the 384.4 million m from the Earth to the moon, it did equal more than 63 return trips to the International Space Station, 1.2 laps of the Earth at the equator, 4.7 laps around the moon, and more than 2,599 lengths of the Sea Forest Waterway, the host venue for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. The UK logged the greatest number of metres, with a total of 16,320,337, while Canada was third with 10,401,454.

Prokopchuk’s 108,800 m would have put her past the troposphere — where commercial airlines fly, the stratosphere, and into the mesosphere — the third layer of Earth’s atmosphere where meteors burn up.

Another member of the Prokopchuk family also took part in the challenge. Anya signed up her dad, Steven, who works at Brentwood College School, and he didn’t realize it until he received the confirmation email.

“I signed him up, he got the URL and ended up taking part,” she said.

Steven ended up rowing 143,910 m, 10th best in the M40-49 division and 51st in the world.

Prokopchuk has been with the MBRC for just over two years. Born in Scotland, she moved with her family to Ontario, and then to Washington, where she first expressed interest in rowing, and where her dad did a learn-to-row course.

“I’ve always been sort of interested,” she explained. “But in the U.S. it’s super-expensive.”

When the family moved to the Cowichan Valley, Prokopchuk’s mom looked into it and signed her up for the local club. Although she said she wasn’t interested after all, her mom made her go anyway

“I ended up loving it.”

MBRC head coach Cheryl Thibodeau praises Prokopchuk’s commitment to the sport.

“Anya has been a very quiet dedicated rower,” she said. “She doesn’t say much, but she is sure stepping it up on the rowing machine and on the water. Her erg scores have been up there with some of my top senior [Grade 11 and 12] rowers, and Anya is only in Grade 8. She has many gold medals to show from her two years with us. She’ll be one to watch out for.”

After moving around so much in the first years of her life, Prokopchuk hopes she is with the Maple Bay club for years to come.

“I love the club,” she said. “And it’s really beautiful here.”

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