St. Ed’s rowing: ‘We want to go as far as we can’

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – The St. Edward’s girls lightweight 4+ boat came within one place of qualifying for the scholastic nationals after making it to the finals at the Florida Scholastic Rowing Association Championships in Sarasota.

Trying to give his rowers the best chance to compete, first-year head coach Aaron Lee eventually settled on racing six four-person crews (three boys, three girls) at Sarasota. “St. Ed’s crew capped off our best year yet at the FSRA Championships,” Lee said. Two of the boys’ boats missed by one place making it to a Sunday showdown.

This event completed a season in which St. Ed’s crew solidified its status as a stable, mainstream sport for probably the first time since its inaugural year of 2005.

The schedule was expanded to include big regattas and dual meets against scholastic and club teams across Florida.

On April 2, the Pirates hosted Lyman High School of Longwood for their first race ever on the Indian River Lagoon. Taking a cue from the new head coach, the 30 boys and girls of the 2011 team became full-fledged members of the rowing “tribe” with a firm commitment to become the best.

Lee worked on both numbers and mindset, attributing the strong participation this year to “a lot of work recruiting, and the kids responding to the fact that we take rowing very seriously.”

The serious part required hard work. The boats were portaged to the river for daily training exercises, or hoisted onto a trailer for transport to a regatta. Considerable time was spent ‘erging’ on rowing machines, learning and using proper sweep (one oar) rowing techniques on the water, and a never-ending emphasis on conditioning for demanding 1,500 meter races.

“It’s impossible to explain what makes someone want to row,” Lee says. “Sometimes it might be the kids who are athletic but never found a team sport that worked for them. Nobody has ever done anything like a rowing stroke. Everything is new. Just about everyone who tries rowing will at some point think about quitting. But the people who keep rowing will wind up building strong bonds.”

Three first-year rowers described what motivated them to give crew a chance.

Sophomore Kristopher Menninger, a member of the varsity basketball team, joined crew because “it’s a water sport, which I love. I rowed before in a kayak, but this is nothing like that. We drill and row in unison. It’s actually more of a team sport than basketball. Everyone relies on each other. You don’t want to be the one to foul up and let your teammates down.”

Freshman Cullen Falvey played varsity football and has a social studies class with Lee. “I guess coach Lee pressured me into rowing because he saw that I could row as a lightweight,” he said.

Freshman Lynde Smith took a little different route.

“Sports and I have a rocky history and I don’t have much athletic ability,” she said. “So I thought I’d give crew a try and I approached Coach Lee. He said he needed short people who could yell. It’s nerve wracking and I’m scared to death. But at the end of the day, I realized it was fun.”

“I tried out a bunch of different sports but crew is something that really stuck with me,” said Amee Upadhyay, a junior who just completed her third year on the water. “There will always be frustrating moments. One really good moment makes you want to stay, and with Mr. Lee here, those moments have become much more frequent.”

Asked to describe such a moment, Upadhyay said, “when you’re out on the water and it’s really flat. We’re in that boat and the four of us are rowing together. The boat is perfectly set, it’s not tilting on the water. Our oars go in cleanly and we get that nice pull during the drive. The coxswain is urging you on and everything is right. We have that bond, we push each other, we want to go as far as we can. It’s perfect – and that’s the moment we work for.”

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