Carling Zeeman – HOMETOWN HERO


Photo Credit: Katie Steenman Images, courtesy of Rowing Canada Aviron.

Hometown Heroes is a new series profiling members of Canada’s National Rowing Team. From now until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the athletes from Canada’s two National Rowing Training Centres will be battling for spots on the Canadian Team.

  Each athlete’s story is unique.  Each athlete’s story will be told.

The Zeeman effect

Definition number 1:

The splitting of a spectral line into several components when that line is in the presence of a static magnetic field.

Definition number 2: 

The effect Carling has in a crew.

Let’s focus on the latter.

Not many women can power their way to a score of 6 minutes and 29 seconds, over 2000 meters, on an indoor rowing machine.  Athletes who are capable of this feat, and who can harness that power properly on the water, will undoubtedly have an impressive effect within their crew.

Hence, what are the essential ingredients needed to produce a human blessed with the Carling effect?

A Dutch heritage i.e.: tall – check.

An abundance of siblings i.e.: competition everywhere, all the time – check.

Growing up on a farm i.e.: a lifetime of cross training – check.

Mix these three ingredients together, stir vigorously, let simmer for twenty years.

The result is Carling Zeeman, one of the fastest women on the indoor rowing machine in the world.

Ironically though, she dislikes the ergometer.

“The gym is so musty and stale,” she explains, referring to where most rowing machines can be found. “I much prefer the outdoors.” 

Although Zeeman was born in Hamilton, Ontario, she grew up on a hobby farm outside of Cambridge. 

Carling has fond memories of her childhood.  Numerous siblings, impromptu pick up games in the yard, much laughter and camaraderie.

She also relished the hard work that was required of her on the homestead.

“We kids did the bulk of it,” Carling says while smiling, “And I worked hardest of all the kids,” she says, “but don’t tell my siblings I said that.” Zeeman adds playfully.

Although the children performed many of the chores, Carling explained, there was still an abundance of time for play amongst the Zeeman clan.

Between siblings and foster kids, there were always enough individuals to form two teams.  Duking it out on a makeshift pitch with whatever ball was handy was as common as sitting down to a home cooked meal.

Nevertheless, tossing around bales of hay and playing soccer in the front yard may have contributed to this budding athletes’ strength, however a few other ingredients were required in order to produce the athlete capable of collecting medals on the elite rowing basins of the world.

Like size for instance.

At 187 centimeters tall and weighing 85 kilograms, Carling dwarfs the majority of women, including many men.

“Yes, we are large in our family, though my Dad is shrinking now,” she says with a smile in her voice, her competitive nature bubbling forth once again.

And while the advantages of being large are occasionally lost on the people who are big, they are not easily forgotten on the individuals who are being trampled.

“Carling does her own thing, we just try to not get left behind,” explained one of her teammates at last year’s RBC National Rowing Championships, where Zeeman won the women’s title in the single sculls event.

However one gets the sense that Zeeman is still figuring out exactly how strong she actually is.  A scary thought for the competition, an exciting one for the Canadian women’s team.

And to think that this phenomenon on the erg almost quit before she even started. 

A speed skater, turned volleyball player, turned rower, Zeeman has a love/hate relationship with organized sport.

On the five and a half hour drive to Laurentian University in Sudbury, the day before the start of her freshman year, she found herself at a crossroads.

“I told myself I was done with sport,” she explained. 

Carling wanted to do something ‘normal’ for a change.

“I wanted to explore life outside of organized sport.  So I enrolled in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program at Laurentian, and forgot about volleyball and speed skating.”

Her plan lasted a day.

“On my first day of class, I saw a poster inviting people to try out for the rowing team. So I did.”

She immediately liked the challenge that rowing presented her. 

“It wasn’t something I could conquer in one day,” Zeeman said.  “It required skill.”

But then things started escalating quickly.  

Coaches started seeing her potential.  Then they started pursuing her.  And then they started pushing her.  

Something that has happened time and again whenever Carling has signed up for a new activity.  Coaches become excited by her stature, and salivate at what could be.

“That was a turn off for me,” Carling explained.  “I had been pushed my whole life.  I just wanted to have a bit of fun.”

The almost instantaneous grooming for high performance simply shut her down.

So after her novice year on the rowing team, she retired.

“My peers were gearing up to keep training during the summer season but that was the last thing I wanted to do.”

She walked away from rowing.

“Putting the oars down sent a message,” she explained. “My actions said – I am in control.  I will progress, if I choose, at my own speed.”

By the time her second year at Laurentian rolled around, she could no longer stay away.  She came out of retirement and joined the rowing team, again.

This time Carling gave the single a try.  That was the moment she truly fell in love with the sport.

“The single gave me direct feedback.  If I was losing a race, it was my fault. If I was winning a race, it was my glory,” she explained.  “That fuelled me.”

It reminded her of the years that she had spent speed skating.

Her progression up the ranks has been swift.  With already one silver world championship medal under her belt, it looks like despite her youth (only 23) and relative inexperience, Carling is well on her way to padding her water pedigree as well as her ergometer resume.

The only question that now remains is what crew will Zeeman be a part of in Rio?

“I will row wherever I am needed and wherever the coach thinks I can contribute,” reiterates a politically correct Zeeman.

Regardless, of the two Zeeman effects that the competition should be concerned about in Rio, they should focus on the one named Carling, not on the one which involves the splitting of spectral lines by a magnetic field.

And into whichever Canadian crew Zeeman ends up having her effect, it will undoubtedly be a welcomed addition in the starting blocks on the Olympic rowing course in 2016.


Carling Zeeman finished 6th in the women’s quadruple sculls at the World Rowing Championships last summer in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Also read Lauren WilkinsonKai LangerfeldLindsay JennerichBrendan Hodge, Conlin McCabe.


Written by: Douglas Vandor – Rowing Canada Aviron – 250.686.2282