LeBlanc was at the starting line near the Spring Lake beach, where he said men wearing waders had to go into the cold water to hold the rowing sculls steady because of the wind.
Ainsworth urged his friend to meet him at the Keenan Marina dock in Ferrysburg to get a great view of the finish. While waiting, he talked about their connection to the Canadian team — Brock University — taking part in the Grand Valley State University-hosted regatta for the first time this year.
LeBlanc’s father, Leo LeBlanc, grew up in St. Catherine’s, Ontario — the location of Brock University, Ainsworth said. Leo LeBlanc eventually moved to Spring Lake and purchased a business in Muskegon called EBW. Ainsworth was one of his longtime employees.
Later in life, LeBlanc donated the money that funded the Leo LeBlanc Rowing Center at Brock University.
Learning about this connection was what helped bring the Brock rowing team to Spring Lake, he said.
Pat LeBlanc, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Michigan State University, said he was told by GVSU head coach John Bancheri that they had been inviting Brock to attend the event for several years, but it wasn’t until he revealed the local connection that the Canadian school had sent an affirmative reply.
“I started getting e-mails from the coach,” Pat LeBlanc said. “I took the coaches and the captains to Old Boys (Brewhouse in Spring Lake) for drinks Friday night.
We talked about the history of rowing at the center and my dad’s part in it. It was really good for both of us.”
“We found out how much that rowing center meant to them,” Ainsworth added.
LeBlanc said rowing was a big part of his father’s life, and donating the funds for the rowing center was a way for him to give back to his hometown and the college.
Brock has a permanent venue — complete with automatic starts and grandstands — on the river in St. Catherine’s, LeBlanc said.
“They’re sort of the Duke basketball of rowing — at least in Canada,” he said.
Brock head coach Peter Somerwil confirmed that his men’s team was ranked first in the province and second in the country this past fall. The women were ranked third in the province and fifth in the country.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said of the six-hour trip to Spring Lake. “I think we’ll look at coming again.”
Somerwil said it was the team’s first race of the season and there was good competition.
“We learned a lot,” he said. “We found some weaknesses to work on.”
Somewil said it was really neat to connect with the LeBlancs. Pat’s sister, Lisa Foster of Spring Lake, also joined the group.
“Leo was a great guy and he remembered where his roots were from,” Somerwil said.
The Leo LeBlanc Rowing Center opened in 1995 and contributed to Brock’s world-class rowing facilities, the coach said.
As the races neared the end, Ainsworth and Pat LeBlanc cheered as some four-person teams crossed the finish line — including Brock, GVSU and Michigan State.
As they greeted the Brock team, the members gave a thumb’s up and said, “Thank you Mr. LeBlanc” — before the coxswain had them turn the boat and row back to the yacht club.
“They’re a good bunch of kids,” LeBlanc said.