Inside the Sport of Rowing: The Dedication Required to Prepare, Compete, and Master the Competition

5 min read

Thomas Mullane ’25

Contributing Writer

“What are you doing at 6 in the morning?”—ask the average college student, and they’ll probably tell you that they’re asleep. A majority will rarely see this hour during the school year, with the exception of the particularly brave souls doing some last-minute cramming or staying up far too late. Ask the 34 members of the Trinity Men’s Rowing Team, and they’ll all give you the same response: rowing on the Connecticut River. Every morning from Monday to Saturday, rowers and coxswains alike arrive at Bliss Boathouse in East Hartford at 5:45 in the morning. Even at this hour, each is ready to maximize the hours of practice ahead of them, unaware of but excited to conquer the scores of potential challenges they may face. Hours before they take a seat in the classroom, these rowers will sit in 70-foot-long carbon fiber shells using 13-foot-long oars to work with their teammates toward the ultimate goal of perfection. 

Approaching the varsity weight room, you’re bound to see a few of these rowers in the tanks, plugging away thousands of meters on one of the dozens of rowing machines in their spare time between classes. Over the off-season, the Ferris tank room is the home to both the men’s and women’s rowing teams, where athletes spend countless hours for four months out of the school year. While rowing is a team sport, the off-season requires a great deal of individual work, and when at home over winter break, rowers largely do their training alone; however, this didn’t stop the team from attacking each and every workout. “We know what we have here but we also know what we need to put in to be the best,” said sophomore Ben Bejoian. “We knew it wouldn’t just take the fall and spring to get there, we needed to work more than was asked of us over the winter in pursuit of being the best.” 

It may look peaceful from a distance, but rowing is one of the most difficult sports, constantly placing immense physical and mental strain on the athlete. On the water, it takes an immense amount of attention to balance, power, and synchronicity to properly propel the shell. On the rowing machine, workouts can range from long, low-intensity steady-state pieces to high-intensity bursts. The cardiovascular demands are unlike that of any other collegiate sport, and the technical execution takes years for rowers to perfect. Practices and races can be mentally draining, requiring athletes to push their bodies harder than they had ever thought possible. If you’ve never seen a rowing race before, head coach Kevin MacDermott gives a pretty accurate description: “Eight rowers and a coxswain are required to propel a 70-foot-long boat, weighing a total of 2000 pounds, a total distance of 2000 meters, which is a little over a mile and a quarter. This effort requires mental strength, physical power and endurance, and high-level racing expertise acquired over time. It requires precision and balance while producing eye-popping, lung-burning, muscle-shredding levels of lactate. And there is no better place to be than in the middle of a crew that is moving well.” 

For the upcoming spring season, Trinity will be racing in six regattas, with the ultimate goal of qualifying for a seventh regatta at the D-III National Championships. Each regatta requires the rowers to execute multiple 2000-meter races in one day, with the first being on April 8 against Tufts, Williams, and Coast Guard Academy. The men’s team is fresh off a series of successful races, with some of the more notable being a bronze medal at the D-III National Championships last spring and a ninth-place finish at the Head of the Charles in the fall. Senior captain Chad Obrey, a returning member of both boats, looks to build off of these successes. “A third-place finish nationally has the squad very excited for this year, and the Charles was a great experience. Our current sophomores were pivotal to our results last spring season, and our incoming freshmen have definitely built upon that success in the fall. The team has a lot of momentum, and our off-season training was very productive because of it. The team is really excited to get on the water and race in the coming weeks.” 

Coach MacDermott, who was recently featured in a US Rowing short film, is also optimistic about the upcoming racing season. “We have a capable group of student-athletes and I believe that we can be successful over time,” said MacDermott. “On the whole, we still have a very long road ahead before we reach our ultimate goals. But, this team has worked hard to improve over the past few months and we will see where we stack up over the next six weeks.” 

The spring racing season will undeniably be a tough one for Trinity. In each of their regattas, the crew will be racing some of the top rowing programs in the northeast in unpredictable and unkind conditions. However, a challenge like this is nothing new to these rowers. Because of the work done both on and off the water, in and out of the classroom, and with and without each other, the Trinity Men’s Rowing team is ready to attack the next few months as one unified crew.

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