Row, row, row your boat : A peek inside club rowing team

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COURTESY IMAGE // ELLA BENBOW

Early morning practices, doing odd jobs for Williamsburg residents and fostering lifelong friendships are all familiar to the College of William and Mary’s rowing club members. Rowing team members Samuel Mosquera ‘21, Ella Benbow ‘21 and Abby Watts ‘20 sat down and shared their unique experiences and insights to the rowing team. 

The rowing team, commonly known as crew, recently competed at their biggest race of the fall, the Head of the Hooch. The competition took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee with over 25 boats representing colleges around the country competing in each race. 

The varsity men’s team won first place in the lightweight four and second place in the lightweight eight. 

Although the women’s varsity team did not receive medals at the Head of the Hooch, they placed in the top half for all of their events. The novice women lightweight four placed in the top three. 

“Those are pretty impressive numbers anyways, considering like 25 or 30 boats will be in that race,” Watts said. 

Teams would normally have to enter a lottery process to become eligible to compete at the Head of the Hooch, but the high scores that the crew team received mean that they have an automatic bid to compete next year.

However, the crew teams’ successes don’t come easily: crew members are known to have early morning practices where they typically wake up at around five in the morning. When asked about how they handle these hours, Watts, Benbow and Mosquera had a simple answer: naps. 

“I’m about to go nap,” Benbow said. 

Mosquera commented on how he admires this level of dedication from his fellow teammates.

“On the varsity guys side, we have like nine practice a week… Everyone is like fully involved with this, and really wants to be dedicated to it, and so just kind of that culture is different I think, and really cool,” Mosquera said. 

However, the flexibility that crew offers is what Watts finds makes it stand out from other sports. 

“I think with rowing there is a certain level of commitment that you expect out of your teammates, but at the same time, this team has been really understanding and accommodating for people who want to make it kind of like, you get what you put into it,” Watts said. “There are some people who will show up to every practice without a doubt, and there are some people who are like, ‘okay, I really like rowing, but this semester, I am really busy, so I think I am going to only come to two to three practices a week.’ So, it can really be like whatever you want it to be, and I also think that’s also really cool, that you wouldn’t normally get in a D1 program.”  

“I think with rowing there is a certain level of commitment that you expect out of your teammates”

In order to raise money to pay their dues for the semester, crew has a program called “Rent-A-Rower” which allows crew members to do work for local residents. These activities can range from tutoring to helping people move and even doing yard work. 

Watts, Benbow and Mosquera reflected on the odd jobs they have done through the Rent-A-Rower program, which has allowed them to gain random but unique experiences.

Watts, who also is the head of fundraising, commented on the most interesting “Rent-A-Rower” job she is running at the moment. 

“Coolest project definitely right now, I am moving Thomas Jefferson out of his house in Colonial Williamsburg, and moving his things to Monticello,” Watts said. “Bill Barker, who plays the National Builder Thomas Jefferson, was like, ‘hi, um— I have a pretty big project. Are you guys going to be here through December?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll get it done.’” 

Mosquera reflected on how the “Rent-A-Rower” program put him in unfamiliar situations.

“Got experience trimming hedge with ‘Rent-A-Rower’, like, oh, just put you in situations where they’re like ‘you know how to do this?’ Not really, but I guess I can figure it out.” Mosquera said. 

The Rent-A-Rower program offers opportunities for team members to interact with members of the community at large.

“You never know who you are going to meet, and who you end up having connections with,” Watts said. 

These connections include alumni in the community.

“Diane—I don’t remember her last name—but I did a bunch of work for her right at the beginning of the semester, and she like, went to William and Mary, lived in Ludwell, graduated in like 1965… and is still super active with the school. And just being able to talk to her and how it has changed throughout the years—kind of her take on new president, new athletic director—was a big topic,” Watts said. “We talked about Joan of Arc for like two hours. We are only supposed to do the work for an hour, and then she ended up just like having us- she made us brownies. She is super nice. It’s actually been really great getting to know people in the community.” 

Something that the trio also found unique about crew is the relationship between athletes and coaches. Since crew’s student executive board hires the coaches, crew members have a say in who coaches them. 

“It means that we work really closely with the coaches, and there is sort of a mutual level of respect because we chose them for a reason, to do their job, but also they will like ask us for our input,” Benbow said.  

Mosquera noted how the relationship between coaches and athletes on the team cultivates a sense of cooperation.

“I think that also kind of sets up a good relationship where kind of like the way the athletes get to decide how they want the club to look, it never comes from the coaches,” Mosquera said. “Each squad has a meeting with the coaches, we call it a ‘goals and standards’ meeting, and the squad says this is what we want to do, this is how we are going to do it. And then the coaches say ‘okay, we are going to do that.’ It is a good relationship that I think where you are never feeling like you are forced to do something.” 

Watts, Benbow and Mosquera also reflected on the friendship aspect of being on crew. The crew team has a program called Boat Buddies, which involves pairing a varsity member with a novice member to foster a connection between the varsity and novice teams.

Mosquera found that Boat Buddies enhanced his freshman experience. 

“It is just like a good way of getting to know people on the team and like kind of builds that connection so that novices have someone that they know will be like their friend,” Mosquera said. “Which is kind of cool as a freshman, that opens up new connections on the varsity side, which is something that I really liked my freshman year, was just like, having upperclassmen friends. I was like, ‘oh man, I’m the coolest person around! All of these seniors want to talk to me— that’s so cool.’”

Benbow finds that friendships between crew members also extend far beyond practice.

“I think like, what goes along with that, having so many practices, we are really close, which is just like a cool community. I think that something that is especially appealing to freshman and new members is like if you see a rower, they are going to wave enthusiastically at you across Sadler,” Benbow said.

“You can learn, it’ll be great, you’ll get into the best shape you’ve been in in your life and make lifelong friends”

According to Benbow, it is never too late to become a crew member. 

“Anyone can start rowing at any time…Anyone should feel free to reach out to us at any time because there is literally no time where it is too late to start learning.” Benbow said. “You can learn, it’ll be great, you’ll get into the best shape you’ve been in in your life and make lifelong friends.”