Rowing Club: From Nothing to Nationals
Growing up in Saratoga, New York (a Sparta of the rowing world), sophomore Zach Ewell is used to hearing such encouragements as, “Pull your guts out!” His own coach’s variation was, “Pull till your ears bleed!” These are indicative of the physical toughness and mental grit that is required of rowers. A rower’s mindset was ground into Zach in his early years, and he wants to share it—along with four boats and rowing exercise equipment—with the New Saint Andrews Rowing Club.
He already brought his grit to the American Collegiate Rowing Association 2019 Nationals this summer. After four years away from the sport, Zach was able to compete in the semifinals of the ACRA Nationals, placing 16 out of 30 boats. “The competition was stiff,” says Zach, “the second-place rower won Dad Vails (the largest regatta in North America) in 2018, so I was pleased with my placement.” In other words, the New Saint Andrews Rowing Club is already making a little noise—Zach took it from nothing to nationals in its first year. He is hoping to shoulder his way into the top ten this coming year. But his larger goal is to form a lasting, formidable rowing team at New Saint Andrews College.
Having a competitive rowing team is a viable goal for New Saint Andrews College. Even for an inexperienced college freshman, becoming a formidable rower by senior year is well within the bounds of the possible. “I rowed with a girl this summer—she went from never having rowed to winning Dad Vails by her senior year. There is a huge possibility [for our club].” Under the coaching of Zach and his father, placing nationally is an attainable goal for any rower with commitment. “If you’re dedicated and out on the water for one season, you can be a solid competitor.”
The club trains at a reservoir in a small clearing a short drive from the college at the foot of Moscow Mountain. Last year, the group arrived on Saturday mornings in down jackets and beanies. They slid the boats onto the mirror surface of the lake, and besides some bird songs, their oars were the only sound in the clearing. “It’s really beautiful,” said Grace Hendrix, one of the members, “it’s nice having no cell service and being out on the water.” Jordan Clemens, who rowed with Zach in spring 2019, said, “Zach was a good coach; he held a balance of coaching and letting me figure it out, and didn’t let me build bad habits.” “Cheerful and patient” is how Grace describes Zach’s rowing instruction. As the training starts and the day heats up, the jackets come off. The cold water is another good teacher: “Flipping the boat is refreshing, but not a lot of fun!” says Grace. The setting, while sleepy, bucolic, and beautiful, soon becomes a ring of testing.
Toughness and grit are habits, says Zach, and rowing is one of the quickest ways to develop them. A central goal for Zach is to see his peers and future classes develop a rower’s fortitude. “We want to develop toughness… [people] who want to work hard. And then have a really good time competing.” There are sections of a race where no one is cheering, and no one is close enough to watch. It is only the rowers, the oars, and the water. At that point in the race, a habit of toughness and willpower is the necessary component for victory. These habits—toughness and willpower when no one is looking—pay dividends in and out of college. As Zach explained, “I don’t pull all-nighters anymore. I made a schedule (which I originally didn’t think would work) and started going to sleep at ten. I go to bed, wake up fresh, and do the best I can with the time I have. And that creates efficiency.” Even in the midst of the rigorous undergraduate program, Zach believes his fellow students are capable of doing the same.
One of Zach’s favorite quotes is from Moby Dick: “You cannot hide the soul.” “I take that to mean, who you are, you cannot hide. That is, your character will eventually come out.” Rowing is a means of making sure that when the soul eventually comes out of hiding, it isn’t limp. Rather, it is disciplined, hardy, and an example of fortitude for others, whether in a rowing regatta or in the arena of life. Toughness is a characteristic New Saint Andrews inculcates in all its students; it is a characteristic required of any who want to lead and shape culture, which is the mission at the heart of the college. That is why both the college board and President Ben Merkle have expressed enthusiasm for the rowing team, with President Merkle lightheartedly quoting one of his old mentors: “Rowing is the next best thing to Christianity.” More information on the rowing team is available here.