Many eights, one crew

The crew team has a long and legendary history here at W-L, first founded by celebrated crew coach Charlie Butt, Jr. in 1949. A sport with an almost seventy year reputation within northern Virginia’s high school rowing scene, student athletes continue to sign up for the sport annually.

Gillian Walsh is a sophomore and a crew team member. “Everyone has the same goal, and we all go through the same things to get there,” Walsh said. The goal is to row faster than your competitors. What goes into that goal, however, is an exhaustive five months of practicing and racing on almost a daily basis.

Crew takes not only the physical endurance to row a boat for almost a mile, but also the mental endurance to row in sync with eight other rowers. Combine that with the perils of rowing on an unpredictable river, and the increasing competition in a growing sport, and you will have a lifestyle of grueling work, six days a week. “Every day we have to run three miles to the boathouse,” Walsh said. “You’re rowing from around four to six. We go through whatever workout we have for the day.”

The workouts are what make the athlete in crew. In order to be successful in the sport, rowers have to dedicate almost all of their time to staying in shape. “Two thousand meter erg tests are the worst,” sophomore Audrey Ruckman said, referring to the two thousand meters the crew team has to complete on rowing machines. “We do stairs on the Exorcist Stairs, and we always row on the Potomac.”

What is arguably more mentally difficult than rowing is being the person who guides the rowers, called a coxswain. The coxswain sits at the front of the boat, shouting when to row. The coxswain also steers the boat, and makes sure that the rowers in the boat are safe. “I need to understand what gets eight different girls going,” coxswain Annabelle Bailey said. “When I’m coxing, I have to be aware of the boat, the surroundings, and any potential safety issues.” Before becoming a coxswain, Bailey was a rower. “I am glad I rowed before I was a coxswain to help me understand the mental stamina a rower needs to make it through a season.”

Both the girls and boys crew teams have been successful this past season. “The girls have seen a lot of success this year, more than they have in a few years,” crew coach Mr. Derek Parsons said. The boys team, on the other hand, was not supposed to be as strong this season as they have been in years past. “We graduated a large percentage of our senior class last year, so we only had three of our varsity eight boys returning,” Parsons said. The boys team exceeded expectations this year, proving themselves as strong as the previous varsity team. “We finished second in the region,” Parsons said, “which is what we did last year.”

What is so interesting about the crew team is how much time they spend together. “We learn a lot about each other, and we become a second family,” Ruckman said. “We practice about eighteen hours a week and spend our Saturdays at regattas. I’m always talking with my teammates about why we love crew.”

While team members love the sport of crew, any other students denote it as a cult based on how much crew members talk about it. “[It’s more cultlike] than any sport I know,” Bailey said. “Crew relies on the synchronization of the whole team. The amount of time we spend trying to achieve that can’t help but be noticed by people on the outside.”

Cult or not, as Ruckman said, crew has become a second family among its many members. “Crew has been the constant in my high school life,” Bailey said. “It has become almost a rock for me.”