The Boys (and Girls) in the Boat
Rowing on the Norwalk River
Local rowers learn teamwork, get into great physical shape, make friends, and, not incidentally, excel in races.
Photos by Ryan Lavine
More than a dozen teenagers from Fox Lane and John Jay high schools are spending their time these days improving their 2ks, erging, rigging and de-rigging, speeding up their catch, and responding to orders from the cox for a power ten or to way nuff.
Sound unfamiliar? It’s the lingo of rowing, a sport whose physical and mental demands routinely push athletes to the brink of exhaustion. The local kids—nine boys and six girls—compete for five clubs, in Norwalk, Westport, and Greenwich. In a sport with strongholds in all sections of the country, and whose popularity has increased significantly over the last decade-plus, they are among the most competitive clubs in the nation.
Amanda Lawrence, Liam McDonough, Ian Trostle, and Christian Lawrence—all Fox Lane students—row for Norwalk River Rowing Association. Their schoolmates, Ella Petreski and Liz Sadrakula, along with Samantha Shulman of John Jay High, compete for the all-girls Connecticut Boat Club. Abby Lehman and Andrew Conner of Fox Lane row for Greenwich Crew. Evan Goggin of Fox Lane is at Saugatuck Rowing Club. And Kris Petreski and Kaare Andersen, both from Fox Lane, and Zach Johnston, Will and Carly Legenzowski of John Jay compete for Maritime Rowing Club.
They learn teamwork—for a four-person boat, the physical synchronization alone is daunting. They develop an impressive sense of discipline. At regattas, they forge friendships in a large regional community. And they get into superb physical condition.
“I wasn’t really sure of what to expect, since I knew nothing about the sport when I first joined,” Amanda Lawrence says. “I’ve found that it’s an incredibly tough, but very rewarding sport, and that you get what you put into it.”
Youth rowing is thriving, but it thrives in obscurity. Despite its growth, it has not captured the attention routinely paid to amateur football, lacrosse, basketball, or field hockey, for example. Or, rather, recapture, because in its golden era 80 or so years ago it was a sport with a national following.
In his bestseller, The Boys in the Boat, author Dan Brown described how in the 1930s, when the intercollegiate rowing championships were held on the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, 100,000 fans lined the shore while coast-to-coast radio broadcasts drew listeners by the millions.
Today rowers train at times and in places where few are around to notice. And while regattas, on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, for example, are lively and bustling, the crowds tend to be limited to the parents, whose volunteer activities keep the clubs afloat, and to the rowers themselves.
It’s a three-season sport—spring, summer and fall, with indoor training throughout the winter. The fall season consists of head races from late September through October, with boats racing individually against the clock, like in ski racing, for up to three miles.
The spring and summer events are sprints, with six or so boats lined up across a river or lake, racing head-to-head for two kilometers. It can be heart-stoppingly exciting—and excruciating. After my son, Kaare Andersen, and Chris Martensson qualified for the 2015 Youth National Championships in the pair, I travelled to Sarasota, Florida, to cheer them on, only to see them miss qualifying for the semi-finals by 0.18 of a second, less time than the blink of an eye.
For the best of the rowers, the rewards include medals from just about every regatta they compete in and trips to national and world championships.
Maritime’s Kris Petreski, is in the top echelon nationally, was a member of the 2015 U.S. Youth National team, and raced in the World Championships in Rio de Janeiro. In 2014, he and Liam McDonough won a gold medal in the Under 17 double sculls at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and at the Club National Championships, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Abby Lehman was part of the 2015 U.S. junior team at the CanAmMex regatta in Mexico City.
Last summer, my son, Kaare, and Chris Martensson, who lives in Norwalk, won a silver medal in the Under 19 pair at the Club National Championships, in Bethel, Ohio. “After losing in Sarasota by such a small margin, we were determined to win a medal at Club Nationals,” Kaare says.
Everyone wants to win medals, of course, but medals are only part of it.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but rowing has proved to be a rewarding activity,” Ian Trostle says. “My favorite part is the strong correlation between effort in practices and results in races.”
Amanda Lawrence says: “My favorite thing about the sport is the people I’ve met. You know they’re here to do the same thing that you’re here to do. There’s something about doing something difficult that brings people together and allows them to get to know one another really well.”