Mens Rowing Team: Life on the water

This story was originally featured in the Campus Times (2014).

While most college students are asleep in their beds at five in the morning, the crew team is getting up and heading to practice.

This isn’t just a once-in-a-while thing either. The team has morning practices from six until eight, Monday through Saturday, nine months out of the year. Even so, this didn’t deter the 22 current members from joining the team.

“Everyone is always on time,” captain and senior Jared Freedman said. “The guys are hardworking and motivated.”

UR Men’s Rowing got its start at the University in the early 80’s and has grown enormously over the past few decades thanks to both student enthusiasm and community support. While the men’s team isn’t a varsity sport (only women’s rowing teams are recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association), the members work as hard as if it were.

The team is coached by John Bernfield, a man who is considered “somewhat of a legend in the rowing world,” according to junior and team member Jon Curtis.

Bernfield begins practice with a warm up to increase cardio and then some dynamic stretching. After that team members get in their boat groups of two, four, or eight, and begin their row, long or short depending on the schedule for the day. Practice is concluded with a little strength training, ending with boat meetings and a “Meliora!”

“It’s a great way to start your day,” sophomore Alex Crawford said. “And you get to do it before anyone else is even up.”

All of this hard work leads up to their races, which take place in both the spring and the fall, the spring being the main season. So far this year, the men have had three regattas. The team came in second in their first race of the season at the Challenge on the Canal in Geneva, NY on Sept. 27. At their second race, The Head of the Genesee, hosted by UR on Oct. 4, the men came in seventh out of 23 teams. At both regattas the team fell short of beating RIT, their biggest rival.

“We share the Genesee with RIT,” Freedman said, “and sometimes come across them during practice.”

The captain of RIT’s team even challenged Freedman to a Captains Challenge, to be held on the Genesee on Nov. 1. This two-school race will be different from a usual regatta where many teams compete.

Although their placing in their first two races wasn’t quite as high as they would have liked, junior Keith McCutchan noted that they are catching up to their competitors. “Hopefully by the end of the season we’ll be beating more of them,” he said.

This past Sunday, the team competed in their third race of the season: the 50th annual Head of the Charles (HOCR) in Boston, MA. Some of the best teams in the international rowing community come to compete in this regatta.

In order to be selected to compete at the HOCR, teams enter a lottery. This year was the first in four that UR had been drawn.

“It was very exciting,” Freedman said. “There were more spectators than we had ever seen and we got to be on the water with some of the best rowers from around the world.”

The team entered a boat in the Men’s Collegiate Eights with Freedman, McCutchan, Crawford, sophomores Mat Johnson,  Ethan Dimmock, and Gavin Piester, juniors David Mullin and senior Brett Chenoweth as coxswain.

Out of the 44 college teams that competed in the Men’s Collegiate Eights, UR came in 34th.

“It was a little disappointing because we wanted to secure a place for next year,” Freedman said, which can be done by placing in the top half of the race.

Despite falling a little short of their goal, the members who attended were happy to have had the experience. Some were even able to meet Hamish Bond, an Olympic Gold Medalist from New Zealand, considered one of the top rowers internationally.

“The race showed us that the best rowers in the world row the same boats, train the same, and row on the same water as us,” Freedman said.

“Even if I’m not rowing, I hope to be at the 75th and 100th anniversary of the race,” Curtis said, who came along to support his teammates who were competing.

Freedman believes that competing at the HOCR is just the beginning of what is sure to be a season of improvement. He also said that the team’s novice class of first-time rowers is very strong and that camaraderie is great.

The team still has two more races left in the fall season: The Head of the Fish next weekend in Saratoga Springs, NY and the Captains Challenge against RIT the weekend after.

“Come the spring, we look forward to even more accomplishments,” Freedman said. “Maybe even a place at nationals.”

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