When Gustav Lindstrom arrived in Christchurch from Sweden and set about constructing the Woolston Tannery buildings in the 1870s, little did he know that one day his building would become a renowned shopping and dining precinct (The Tannery), or that his grandsons, and their succeeding progeny, would achieve national and international rowing acclaim.
Fast-forward to 2019, and Gustav’s great-grandson, George Keys, recounts some history of the Lindstrom and Keys families, and how they came to excel in rowing. ‘Gustav didn’t row himself, but his grandsons, George and Ted Lindstrom, got into it after the Second World War. They won the National Pair title for Avon Rowing Club in 1947, 1948 and 1950, and after Ted retired from rowing, he coached for the 1968 and 1972 Olympics,’ George explains.
George reckons it was probably at a dance hall that George Lindstrom met Nancy Keys, and Eileen Lindstrom (George’s sister) met Arthur Keys; from those eventual marriages, the wheels were set in motion for the meteoric rise of Avon Rowing Club
George was born in 1960 and began rowing at Avon Rowing Club in 1972 when he was 12, alongside older brother, Brian. He was 15 when he was selected for the Colts Under 23s and competed in Australia, and in 1976, aged 16, he won the red coat (i.e. a red blazer) at the National Rowing Championship on Lake Karapiro. George was the youngest rower, ever, to win a red coat. His total tally of red coat wins for Avon was nine.
In that same winning Avon eights boat with George were first cousins, Ross and David Lindstrom (sons of Ted and George Lindstrom, respectively) who’ve both been international rowing medallists. This family triumph marked the first time the National Rowing Championship went to the South Island.
In 1982, George rowed in the eights for The World Rowing Championships held at Lucerne’s Lake Rotsee, Switzerland. George’s team came first and Arthur Keys was there to see his son receive his gold medal. The following year, at Duisburg, Germany, George’s team again took out gold in the eights. In 1985, he was the national single sculls champion at Lake Ruataniwha, and in 1988, George won the bronze medal in the coxed four at the Seoul Olympics. ‘I still have all my medals. That was an amazing time of my life.’
The fourth generation of this dynastic rowing family is represented by George’s nephew and niece, Logan and Mary-Jo Keys, youngest children of Brian Keys. Logan began rowing as a 13-year-old Christchurch Boys’ High School student in 2006, and took up assistant coaching in 2011. He won a silver medal in the coxed four at the World Rowing Championships in Linz, Austria, in 2013.
In his coaching role, Logan says he can spot fairly quickly those with the gift to succeed. ‘Jack Lopas, for example. When he started rowing, he struggled for a bit, but was always out there. In his final year at school, he won four national titles then went on to win the Junior World Champs in the double. The following year, he won the Under 23 World Champs in the finals; now he’s doing a full scholarship at Yale University, and is rowing for Yale.’
Logan says the opportunities for rowing competitively at tertiary level overseas are huge. ‘Rowing at US universities is a big thing. They’re competitive and they love it. Should a New Zealand rower decide to go for it, they can do really well.’
Rowing training varies at high school level and junior level. For those in the New Zealand junior system, they usually head up to St Peter’s College in Cambridge. The Rowing Academy run their classes in Term four, and the In his coaching role, Logan says he can spot fairly quickly those with the gift to succeed. rowing is done on Lake Karapiro. They train in the morning and in the afternoon, and have normal schooling in between. St Peter’s is a recognised school for training rowers and they host the New Zealand Junior Championships there. One of the most highly anticipated national rowing regattas for under 18-year-olds is the Maadi Cup, which alternates each year between Lake Ruataniwha and Lake Karapiro. ‘It’s the biggest secondary school event in the Southern Hemisphere, with around two and a half thousand athletes competing each year,’ Logan says. Logan is in no doubt his rowing and coaching career was shaped by his family’s long involvement with the sport. ‘My maternal grandfather, Trevor Le Bas, coached at Christchurch Boys’ High School in the 1970s for around 20 years. He died just before I got into rowing, but he was an influence on me because if ever I felt like not doing something, I’d think about Trevor – that he’d have wanted me to do it – so I’d do it.’
Apart from his coaching, Logan recently took on the role of Canterbury Rowing Association Regional Manager, and in 2012, while studying at university, he began his own labour hire business – SOS Labour. It’s doing so well that now he has an assistant manager. ‘He’s one of my ex-rowers,’ Logan chuckles.
Mary-Jo Keys may not closely resemble her twin brother, but the 26-year-old definitely has his drive. She studied at South Carolina University in 2012, followed by a move to San Diego University in 2013, where she studied for her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. ‘San Diego was fantastic. We lived close to the beach and spent a lot of time there. It was a great outdoor life!’
She returned to Christchurch in 2015 and began coaching at Christchurch Boys’ High School until a very tempting job offer to become assistant rowing coach at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas saw her packing her bags and moving there in November 2018.
When not coaching at SMU, Mary-Jo attends rowing events, both inside and outside the United States, on recruitment missions. ‘There’s a lot of travel involved in recruiting, but I love it. I follow the training sessions and talk to the people involved. Outside of America, we recruit from Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the United Kingdom, to name a few.’
Mary-Jo has nothing but praise for Aotearoa’s female rowers. ‘New Zealand girls are getting world-wide recognition now. Because our rowers begin at secondary school, they’re already strong in their sport, and don’t need that intense training that their counterparts need in America.’
As to her future, Mary-Jo says she would like to remain coaching at SMU for another year but ultimately wants to return home. ‘I miss New Zealand, and I miss coaching at Christchurch Boys’ High School. There was a period when Logan and I were both coaching there; it was fantastic! I enjoy coaching kids at high school level. The culture around rowing in New Zealand is the best. Th ere’s a slightly more light-hearted vibe in the teaching, whereas here in the States, it’s quite intense…I guess you could say it’s pretty much about the money.’
When asked if she and Logan were to race now who would win, Mary-Jo grins. ‘Well, Logan’s stronger, so I’m sure he’d win…but I’d certainly give it my best shot!’ Spoken, one can’t help but think, like a true descendant of the Keys and Lindstrom families.
WORDS Céline Gibson