J. Derek Riley was the seventh child of Conrad S. Riley, inducted in 1982, and followed his father and older brothers as an oarsman and builder of sport. After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, Derek Riley joined the Winnipeg Rowing Club (WRC) in 1946 at the age of 24.
Vast geography dictated competition and for rowers like Riley that meant the Northwest International Rowing Association (NWIRA - encompassing Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Minnesota, Michigan and the Lakehead in Northern Ontario), and the Royal Canadian Henley (RCH) out east. Of course the pinnacle of competitive opportunity was the Olympic Games and that was a longtime dream for Riley.
He achieved early success capturing Junior Singles titles at the NWIRA and RCH in 1946-47. He won the 1947 RCH Senior Pair with Theo Dubois and the 1948 NWIRA Senior Pair with Bob Richards. Riley credited rowing with and against such mentors as being key to his own success. He also credited the life lessons learned in the sport of rowing - perseverance and dedication - as building blocks for his personal and professional life.
Riley won his first of seven NWIRA Singles crowns in 1950 to go with Sr. Pair and Four titles. But Riley's NWIRA finest hour came in 1961 when he won every event (Singles, _ mile dash, Sr. Pair, Four and Eight). He rowed his last NWIRA race in 1963 and won 34 medals at that elite level.
Derek Riley partnered with Roy Williams of Hamilton in pursuit of his Olympic dream for the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland. The Olympic Trials in Port Dalhousie went well for the WRC twosome, as they won by two open lengths. But their Olympic experience was tarnished as their rowing shells were irreparably damaged in transit. Delays and inferior replacement boats made for disappointment.
Undaunted, Riley returned to row competitively for another decade, chaired the Rowing Venue at the 1967 Pan Am Games and raised $750,000 to construct a new boathouse for the WRC in the late 80's. He would also enjoy success in the mid-80's at the World, Canadian and US Masters, as well as the Head of the Charles race in Boston.
J. Derek Riley was a champion in and for the sport of rowing for over six decades.
Derek Riley is also a member of the Tribune Sports Hall of Fame.