Olympic rowing champion Kathleen Heddle dead of cancer at age 55

Marnie McBean (l) and Kathleen Heddle (r) are all smiles after winning the award for outstanding pairs at the Canadian Sport Awards. (Kevin Frayer/CP)

VANCOUVER — Three-time Olympic rowing champion Kathleen Heddle has died of cancer at age 55.

Canada’s Heddle and Marnie McBean won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996 in the coxless pair and double sculls respectively. Heddle also earned gold with the women’s eight in 1992.

The duo carried Canada’s flag at the 1996 closing ceremonies in Atlanta.

“I am crushed and without words today at this loss,” McBean wrote Wednesday in a social-media post. “Too soon.”

Heddle battled breast and lymph-node cancer followed by melanoma and brain cancer for six years.

She died Monday at home in Vancouver, according to a Rowing Canada statement issued Wednesday on behalf of her family.

“While our grief is as heavy as the darkest moment of night, the gifts given to us by Kathleen shine bright as the moon and stars,” her family said in the statement.

“With time, memories of our happiest days with Kathleen will be sure to overcome our tears.”

The statement included a November, 2020 quote from Heddle: “How is it that amongst some of the worst days ever, you can also experience some of the best?”

Heddle was born in Trail, but her family moved to Vancouver when she was an infant. She became a rower while attending the University of British Columbia.

Heddle and McBean are the only Canadian athletes to win three gold medals in Summer Olympic Games. They also claimed gold in the pair at the 1991 and 1995 world championships.

Heddle’s quiet resolve was the foil to McBean’s more dominant personality.

“Kathleen had an incredible sense of touch, seemingly aware of the natural rhythm and flow in things,” her family wrote in its tribute to her.

“Kathleen loved the serenity of being on the water and in nature, always a proponent of wearing a hat and sunscreen, even on a cloudy day.”

Heddle and McBean were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.

“It doesn’t seem possible that this incredible athlete and beautiful person is gone,” Heddle’s Canadian rowing teammate Silken Laumann wrote in a social-media post. “The world has lost a true hero.”

Heddle is survived by her husband Mike and children Lyndsey and Mac.

“Rowing was part of Kathleen’s life but they were the whole of it,” wrote McBean.

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