By: Angela DelVecchio & Angelise Stuhl
PHILADELPHIA, PA – As spectators, the beauty and picturesque scene of rowers glazing across the Schuylkill River with Boathouse Row as a backdrop is a mainstay to Philadelphia History. But for our high school crew teams who compete and practice every day along this historic setting, there is a spirit, drive and resilience all their own. A sport undeniably fostering Olympians and record-setting competitors; here is a glimpse from some of our athletes who contend on the river.
Q. For those who may not be as familiar with Crew, what would you like people to know about the sport?
A. “A lot of people who do not know much about rowing think that rowing is all about using your arms and that your arms get the most exhausted when you row. It’s all about the legs. Your arms don’t hurt nearly as much as your legs at the end of a race,” said Nick Horbowy – Episcopal Academy, Cornell University.
A. “Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the modern Olympics. For those who may not know, there are two styles of rowers: scullers and sweepers. Scullers row using two oars and sweepers row using one oar. Roman Catholic Crew is made up of scullers. Crew is unique to most sports since the majority of those who row didn’t get involved with the sport until high school, like myself,” said John Meehan – Roman Catholic, Villanova University.
A. “I find it interesting how the best rowing even when at maximum exertion looks the most peaceful. It’s so easy to watch a race from the side of the river and cheer. I often times think how easy it looks even though I can understand the true pain those rowers are in. The hardest part about crew is overcoming failures. Crew isn’t a physical sport in the sense that you can’t block another boat out. The only way to succeed is to be stronger and more technical than the other boats. Success means to improve yourself instead of finding ways to hinder your opponents. So, when you fail to succeed, it becomes difficult to deal with emotionally. To move on you need to refocus your efforts and strive for improvement every day,” said Lindsay Naber – Germantown Academy, Tufts University.
A. “I think the most important misconception is in regards to the overall difficulty of the sport. While it is indeed an unbelievably difficult sport at times, it is important to never forget why we do the sport. Rowing, unlike any other sport I’ve ever competed in, teaches huge amounts of discipline, dedication, grit, and courage, among other things. As Coach Mieczkowski always reminds us, it is important to never think of a practice or a workout as a punishment or a negative event, even though it might feel that way. Instead, we must view each and every moment, especially the most difficult ones, as opportunities to better ourselves in so many different ways; physically, mentally, emotionally, and communally as we are connected through our dedication to and for each other,” said Nicholas Armetta – La Salle College High School, University of Pennsylvania.
A. “A lot of people think that it’s not a real sport, and that we just go on the river and row around, but this is one of the toughest sports I’ve ever done. We train all year-round from August until May. From November until the end of February, we are inside on the ergs. That is a lot of individual motivation to be able to push yourself and to know that your teammates next to you are working just as hard. We put a lot of effort into it and it’s very rewarding,” said Miranda Greeley – Archbishop Carroll, Penn State University (Altoona).
A. “Well first off, crew is hard. Rowing a boat may seem easy to spectators, like my mom used to say to me, “Just row faster!” However, being an all year sport is both taxing physically and mentally. It is through the wearing down of oneself that we, as a team, grow with one another and find our limits together.
Something interesting that I have found about rowing is that it is the only sport that you have to be completely relaxed while putting yourself through the most pain you have ever felt. The better crews on the river look calm while rowing but inside each member is pushing themselves to the max for the other members of the boat,” said Alister Virkler – La Salle College High School Junior.
Q. Explain the different kinds of training and muscles used in crew?
A. “For our indoor training at EA, we are lucky enough that we have tanks. Sometimes our indoor training can become a bit repetitive just on the erg, so having the tanks is a nice change. For training on the water, everyone is together and competing for the same goal,” said Will Purtill – Episcopal Academy, University of Pennsylvania.
A. “After a season ends or when you start rowing, you realize there are lots of little muscles that you didn’t even know you had that you use while rowing. One misconception is that since you are sitting the whole time you aren’t doing anything – but that’s the complete opposite. Even though you may not be completely vertical, it’s a lot of work. It’s mostly legs, but every muscle gets used,” said Gabby D’Arcangelo – Agnes Irwin School, Princeton University.
Q. Explain how rowing is both a team sport as well as an individual sport?
A. “As a team sport, there are a lot of different personalities and to get a boat to actually work together and to be fast, you have to get the personalities to blend well and work well together. As a personal sport, you know that you are pushing yourself, but you are pushing yourself for your team. You have to ‘be accountable for yourself’ as our old coach would say and you have to have that mental toughness,” said Maya Brown-Hunt – Agnes Irwin School, University of Pennsylvania.
A. “Every day at practice you have to push and motivate yourself, so in that way it’s individual. But it’s really the ultimate team sport because everyone must be on their A game if you want the boat to move. For our team specifically, we talk about trust. So, trusting that the girl in front of you and behind you is pushing their hardest so that you can also push your hardest and perform your best,” said Brooke Baxter – Episcopal Academy, Princeton University.
A. “Rowing acts both as a team sport and as an individual sport. Rowing is a team sport because when you’re in the bigger boats (doubles, quads, or eights), you are not there alone. Each person in the boat works together like gears in a machine. When the rowers in the boat are out of sync with each other, the boat cannot move, similar to how if the gears in a machine are not moving together a jam occurs. Once the rowers are in sync, the boat can move and be a well-oiled machine.
The boat also requires a level of trust in each rower within that boat. You want to trust that each rower is putting their full effort and concentration into each stroke, planning to better themselves with each consecutive stroke. Rowing can also be an individual sport. When the rower is in a single boat it’s all him, and him alone. The work and power all come from one place – the individual in the single. You build yourself and move only yourself up and down the river, so if you don’t add power you will not go anywhere. In the races, the glory of the win or the exhaustion of a loss is because of you and only you,” said John Meehan- Roman Catholic, Villanova University.
A. “Crew is a team sport in the sense that everyone must be working as one unit in the boat. If everyone is doing things even just slightly differently then the boat won’t move as effectively. Although most of your training is individual and in the gym. Each person must try their hardest on their own but the goal is to get the whole boat moving as one cohesive unit instead of a bunch of separate people,” said Zara Wenzinger – Baldwin School, Duquesne University.
A. “One of the things I love about rowing is that it is a combination of a team and individual sport. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of a rower’s training is mental and learning to push one’s boundaries. A rower needs to find motivation for his or herself, and it is up to each individual how much effort he or she is going to put into each practice or each race. However, rowing is a team sport because boat “chemistry” or harmony is critical to the success of the boat. Rowers need to not only keep in time with each other in the rhythm of the boat, but they also need to have trust in each other that they are all doing their very best. If one rower is trying harder than another in the boat, then tension and animosity can grow, and it can be incredibly frustrating if one rower is very motivated to win but the other does not care as much. When I am racing in a boat with my teammates, I am pulling not only for myself but also for my boat mates. We win together and we lose together no matter what, and we have to stick together and keep trusting each other to be successful,” said Olivia Lanchoney – Baldwin School, University of Notre Dame.
A. “Rowing on the surface may appear to be an individual sport. You erg and train to get your Lowest splits so you can then in turn be placed in a fast boat, but more important than fast splits is the ability to synchronize with your boatmates.
To move a boat the fastest you want everything to be the same, from your hand speed to handle heights to timing of when you apply your peak pressure. This synchronicity usually can only come after months of training in the same lineup. A rower needs to be relaxed so they can feel the movement of the boat and know how to best synchronize with their boat mates. It’s all about crews having the ability to work together. In addition, crew is a sport that’s so taxing mentally that often times the only way to push yourself is with the mentality that you’re rowing for your teammates,” said Lindsay Naber – Germantown Academy, Tufts University.
A. “Out of all the sports I have participated in, Rowing is the most team driven. Apart from rowing in a single, to be a rower you need to be able to rely on the others in the boat. Each member has a job. They need to be reliable and this is where we, as rowers, need to be accountable for our performance. Throughout the winter training season, each individual rower works to better himself to make him, the boat, and the program faster and this is where the individual aspect of rowing comes from. But in no other sport, do you have up to 9 athletes coming together to act as one uniform machine,” said Alister Virkler – La Salle College High School Junior.
A. “I think the sport of rowing is special in the fact that it requires eight individuals, if you are in an 8-man boat plus a coxswain, to come together as one and create something that’s pretty beautiful in the fact that you can push yourself to your bodies limits and do it together in a way that makes the boat go really fast,” said John Barbera – St. Joseph’s Prep, United States Coast Guard Academy.
Q. How important is it to trust everyone in your boat?
A. “Trust is the top, if not, one of the top qualities you need to have in the other eight guys in the shell. If all eight guys are pulling and the coxswain is working his butt off to make us all go fast, you’re going to be fast. But if there is that little doubt in your mind that you don’t think someone else is pulling, you can’t succeed as a crew,” said Mike Pagliaro – St. Joseph’s Prep junior.
Q. How does mental strength play a role in the sport?
A. “Mental strength plays a very large role in the sport. I have found over and over again that my body is capable of doing things I had no idea were possible until I broke through that mental barrier that tells me “you can’t do it.” It’s scary to push oneself into this “unknown territory” because it can be incredibly painful, but the rewards can be magnificent. It is so incredibly easy to just give up and stop pulling especially in a race, so rowers need to find motivation to push through that pain and keep giving 100%. Personally, when I am training indoors on an erg, I count my strokes or count down the meters on the screen to keep myself focused and remind myself that the pain I’m feeling is only temporary. When I am racing on the water, my intense desire to win drives me down the course and allows me to push myself out of my comfort zone.” said Olivia Lanchoney – Baldwin School, University of Notre Dame.
A. “Mental strength is almost more important than physical strength. Especially going into the race, you need to have the most confidence possible because if not it could really impact the way you row. And if you go up to the race believing that you will give it your all and that you will win and succeed, you will,” said Shannon Conlin – Episcopal Academy, University of Alabama.