Olympic silver medalist named to St. Catharines hall of fame
Barbara Armbrust’s experience of winning a silver medal in the women’s coxed four at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles was topped by the event’s opening ceremonies.
“Walking in with Team Canada into that huge stadium filled with 90,000 people cheering and screaming was my defining moment as a Canadian,” said Armbrust, who was among five people inducted into the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night. “I just love watching every Olympics and the Canadian athletes at the opening ceremonies. You can see all the hope and the expectation in their faces. They’re finally there.”
She admits to getting a little teary-eyed when she is watching the ceremonies.
“Silly enough, yes I do.”
Her memory of standing on a podium at the Olympic Games as a 21-year-old isn’t as filled with happiness.
“Being on the podium is like the dream but I was so dehydrated and feeling ill after our race and they didn’t really give us time to recover,” the 59-year-old Edmonton resident said. “We just rowed up and got up there and the whole time I was thinking just don’t pass out. It wasn’t the greatest experience but afterwards I got rehydrated and it was the media and everything else that comes with being a silver medalist. It was pretty incredible. My 15 minutes of fame.”
The following year, Armbrust had another big moment when she won a bronze medal in the coxed four at the 1985 World Rowing Championships in Hazewinkel, Belgium.
Unlike the Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by 14 Eastern Bloc countries and allies, including the Soviet Union, all the top teams were in Belgium.
“We rowed through the Russians in the last 500 metres and it was like ‘Yes.’ And it was the first time they had changed women’s rowing from 1000 metres to 2000 metres so we had something to prove too. We could do it.”
Armbrust, who also represented Canada at the senior worlds in 1983 and 1986 and won two silver medals at the 1983 Lucerne World Cup, was planning on going to go to the 1988 Olympics but was cut from the team one day before it left for South Korea.
“Everything fell into place at that time and it was time to hang it up. I decided that was it.”
Lowlights were few in her on-water career.
“It was being in the right place at the right time and everything happened really nicely. I made the junior national team, got right on the senior national team and went to the Olympics,” she said. “I had a bit of an injury in 1987 and couldn’t compete at the worlds and that was the beginning of the end.”
She got her start in rowing in high school.
“Rowing was a really popular high school sport and all the cools kids did it, even the football players, so in Grade 10 I started when I was 15,” she said. “I had a great season where we won a gold medal and I was hooked.”
That Canadian Secondary Schools Rowing Association gold medal in the coxed four was following by two more Schoolboy golds, two silvers and a bronze.
Among her most influential coaches were Rudy Wieler and Scott Anderson, who was her very first rowing coach.
The former St. Catharines Rowing Club member’s sports background has played a major role in how she lives her life.
“It is the ability to challenge yourself on a daily basis. I’m in sales and sometimes the challenge is getting up in the morning and being present or making that extra call at the end of the day,” she said. “I like challenges and it prepare me for that. And I am driven and dedicated and employers love me. I lead by example and I like to walk the talk.”
The pharmaceuticals sales rep continued her involvement in rowing once she retired as an athlete. She coached the B.C. women’s team at the Western Canada Summer Game and she also coached at the Edmonton Rowing Club.
“It was an example set back here (St. Catharines) that you give back to the sport.”
Armbrust also served as the president of Wheelchair Sports Alberta for eight years and was a member of the mission staff for Alberta the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg in 2017.
She describes her induction into the St. Catharines sports hall as huge.
“I have lived in Edmonton for 30 years but St. Catharines is home for me. I am moving back here and this is my place and these are my people. The rowing community here is huge and when I come back I have all these friends that are still here and we will be friends for life.”
She has two sons, Michael and Eric, and both rowed. Eric rowed for Brock and the St. Catharines Rowing Club.