Jacob Wassermann has turned his athletic prowess to a new sport, and it should come as no surprise that his determination has already made him shine. Jacob won his first gold medal in the fledgling world of competitive indoor rowing on his way to a place in the outdoor rowing world. 

This past weekend, the 2023 World Rowing Championships were held in Mississauga, ON. Wasserman clocked in at 09:38.3 in the Men’s PR1 Category competition over his nearest rival, Jan Folga Ieszek, from Poland,. Wasserman completed the feat at his home rowing club in Saskatoon on a specialized rowing machine hooked to online tracking especially designed for the competition. He was just introduced to the sport in October of last year, and he’s thrown himself into the new venture whole heartedly.

“I actually ran into one of my current teammates in a grocery store, and he said it was a new thing that he was trying out,” Wasserman recalls. “I thought that sounded interesting and I’d love to give it a try and it started from there.”

Wassermann is a former Humboldt Bronco who was left a paraplegic as a result of the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy. He emerged from his injury with his competitive and inquisitive nature intact, and he’s met challenges with a remarkable strength and vigour. Wassermann turned to the sport of adaptive water skiing and worked hard to master its demands. He excelled in competition throughout the past few years. With the cold Saskatchewan winters, Wasserman and his rowing teammates are confined to indoor machines, but his goal, once the waters open, is to get out and challenge himself and others in the outdoor sport. 

“I’ve really started to enjoy rowing and I plan to stick with it once we get on the water. It’s an Olympic sport, so there’s more opportunity with it for sure, and there’s more exposure and supports connected to the rowing world around here just in the short time I’ve been in the sport.”

Wassermann competes on a static rowing machine, the kind that are commonly found in most gyms. For adaptive rowing, some machines have a static seat that allows their use in competition. The participants are placed in classes according to their relative mobility and facility with the machines. He works with another adaptive athlete and a dedicated core of rowers who offer their support. 

Competitive indoor rowing is an offshoot of its outdoor counterpart. Athletes in nordic climates can continue to train throughout the year, and Wassermann got into the fray during that season. With some athletes competing virtually, Wassermann did not have to make the trek to Ontario to face his counterpart from halfway around the world. 

“It was my first taste of competition in rowing, so it was exciting for sure.”

The virtual format didn’t detract from the drama of the race as online viewers could watch graphics as the “boats” pulled ahead or fell behind with the rowers’ efforts. Wassermann admits that it added to the motivation.

“Even on my screen, I could see how close I was to the other competitors. It was a cool set up. I had a race plan set of how I was going to go about it, and I tried to just stick to that. I tried not to watch the screen too much, but it’s hard when it’s right there. You push a little harder to try to beat those people who are right there with you.”

The hope is to transition to the outdoors by the end of April in the icy Saskatchewan water. Wasserman hasn’t hung up the water ski for good; he plans to continue with adaptive water skiing as a pastime. But his newfound passion for rowing has him dreaming of international competition in the world of rowing.