Kathleen Heddle

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Kathleen Joan Heddle
Personal information
Born(1965-11-27)November 27, 1965
Trail, British Columbia
DiedJanuary 11, 2021(2021-01-11) (aged 55)
Vancouver, British Columbia
ClubBurnaby Lake Rowing Club
Medal record
Event 1st 2nd 3rd
Olympic Games 3 0 1
World Championships 3 2 0
Women's rowing
Representing  Canada
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1992 Barcelona Coxless pair
Gold medal – first place 1992 Barcelona Eight
Gold medal – first place 1996 Atlanta Double sculls
Bronze medal – third place 1996 Atlanta Quadruple sculls

Kathleen Joan Heddle, OBC (November 27, 1965 – January 11, 2021) was a Canadian Olympic rower. She and her long-time rowing partner Marnie McBean were the first Canadians to be awarded three Olympic gold medals at the Summer Games. They also won a silver in double sculls at the 1994 World Championships.

Early life[edit]

Heddle was born in Trail, British Columbia,[1] on November 27, 1965.[2] Her father, Duncan, worked as a mining engineer; her mother, Marilyn (Buchanan), was a registered dietitian and housewife. Heddle had two sisters (Libby and Peggy) and one brother (Murray).[3] The family moved to the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver when she was eight months old,[3][4] and she graduated from Kitsilano Secondary School.[5] Heddle went on to study psychology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), obtaining a bachelor's degree in 1990.[4][6]

Although she initially played volleyball and intended to make the varsity team, her interest in rowing was piqued when she passed by the team's booth while registering for courses during her junior year at the War Memorial Gymnasium.[6][7] She was selected in large part due to her height and rowed with the team for two years.[7] During this time, she suffered extreme anxiety and apprehension during major races.[6] Heddle was promoted to the national team in 1987,[7] and won a gold medal in straight pairs at the Pan American Games that year.[6]


Heddle was part of the quartet that finished in fourth place in both the 1989 and 1990 World Rowing Championships. She was consequently paired with Marnie McBean by their coach.[8] McBean was initially doubtful of their partnership, with her outgoing personality contrasting with Heddle's introversion. McBean interpreted this as a lack of ambition and competitiveness,[9] and even went as far as to request a new partner.[10] Their coach responded, "You do realize that Kathleen is the best rower on the team, and she's even better than you, Marnie".[10] At the 1991 World Cup in Lucerne, their first major tournament together, they defeated the defending world champions in their opening race.[7][8] The same year, they won a gold medal in straight pairs at the World Championships, and secured another gold as part of Canada's eights team.[2][7][8] They replicated their performance at the 1992 Summer Olympics, winning gold medals in straight pairs and eights.[2][7]

Heddle took a one-year hiatus from the sport in 1993,[8] and changed to sculling.[7] On her return at the 1994 World Championships, she and McBean finished runners-up in double sculls. They improved on their result at the championships the following year, and also secured silver as part of the quad sculls team. Her final event before retiring was the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where she won a gold medal with McBean in double sculls and a bronze in the quad sculls.[7][8] At the time of her death, she and McBean were the only Canadians to win three gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games.[1][11]


Heddle was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1994.[8] Three years later, she was awarded the Order of British Columbia,[12] inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame,[2] and named B.C. Athlete of the Year.[13] She was also conferred the Thomas Keller Medal by FISA, the International Rowing Federation, for her outstanding career in international rowing in 1999.[8]

Heddle was enshrined into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.[7] She was subsequently granted an honorary doctorate of letters by UBC (her alma mater) in November 2004.[13]

Personal life[edit]

After retiring, Heddle moved to Kerrisdale in Vancouver. She married Mike Bryden in October 2000. They had two children, one of whom also studied at UBC and joined its rowing team.[3]

Heddle died on January 11, 2021, at her home in Vancouver. She was 55, and had breast cancer and lymphoma followed by melanoma and brain cancer in the six years preceding her death.[1][3]


  1. ^ a b c "Kathleen Heddle, Canadian Olympic rowing champion, dead of cancer at age 55". CBC News. The Canadian Press. January 13, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d "Kathleen Heddle". Calgary: Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Paybarah, Azi (January 13, 2021). "Kathleen Heddle, Rower Who Won 3 Olympic Gold Medals, Dies at 55". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Barnes, Dan (January 13, 2021). "Canadian rower and Olympic champion Kathleen Heddle dies". Toronto Sun. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  5. ^ Kurucz, John (May 1, 2018). "Kitsilano secondary school celebrates 100th birthday". Vancouver Courier. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Hume, Fred. "Kathleen Heddle (2002)". UBC Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Kathleen Heddle". Vancouver: BC Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Kathleen Heddle". Toronto: Canadian Olympic Committee. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  9. ^ Spencer, Donna (July 30, 2016). "Canadian teams of two to test their relationship in Rio". CTV News. The Canadian Press. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Bielski, Zosia (January 26, 2012). "Giving introverts permission to be themselves". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Archived from the original on January 25, 2021. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  11. ^ "Kathleen Heddle, Canadian Olympic rowing champ, dies at 55". Associated Press. January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  12. ^ Brown, Scott (January 14, 2021). "Canadian rowing great Kathleen Heddle dies of cancer". The Province. Vancouver. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Honorary Degree Citations – 2003–07". University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on February 4, 2019. Retrieved January 14, 2021.

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