You can feel it in your blood — well after the cox has yelled “ready up” and your eight-person crew has hoisted the rowing shell back into the boathouse. Even an hour after a long afternoon at the oars, you can sit in your chair and feel your blood surge in rhythm to the coxswain’s beat. Blending your energies with your fellows to power your boat swiftly through the waters is a heady and lasting experience.
Those who have gazed wistfully at the slender hull of a rowing shell slicing across the lake, and admired that precise human unison that strokes it smoothly along: your time has come. The Princeton National Rowing Association is offering you a sliding seat at the shell — eight or four person — and the opportunity to be one of those athletes stroking across Mercer Lake in concert with your comrades. And it is not just for the youngsters any more.
Yes, as usual, hundreds of young people this summer will make pilgrimage down West Windsor’s South Post Road to the Caspersen Boathouse on Mercer Lake. Middle-school to college students will join the center’s various programs and classes, including rowing camps for novice through advanced rowers in grades 7 to 12. But who says the exhilaration of team rowing must end with tossing your graduation cap into the air? Certainly not PNRA events manager Hilary Gehman, who spearheads the newly launched Adult Summer Rowing League.
#b#Adult Rowing League#/b#
‘This year we’ve got something for people of all experience levels,” says Gehman. “Our Adult Summer League is for men and women who have never rowed and always wanted to, for those who once rowed in college, and even more experienced rowers.” The atmosphere is recreational, but the instruction and the personal achievement are top level. The league begins the week of Monday, June 11, and runs eight weeks, ending with a regatta and cookout on Saturday, August 4. Practices are held once a week from 5:45 to 7:15 p.m. For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost for individuals is a modest $250.
Rowers will be assigned to a crew in either eight or four-person shells, and trained under a coxswain and coaches, many of whom are national competitors. You will make a commitment to your team and be rewarded with a memorable bond. Of course, if your gang at work wants to pull together for some early morning fun, you all can form your own crew. This a corporate culture builder ideally designed for company sponsorship. “I mean, think of the PR value, boss. Those accountants over on Nassau Street and that research group up the road … they’re calling us just a weak bunch of Carnegie Center techies. Why don’t we put together a boat and blow those guys out of the water? It only costs $2,000 to put our crew out on Mercer Lake, and we can make it co-ed if we want. And you can join us, boss. We even get our own T-shirts.”
From your first foray around the Caspersen Boathouse, you’ll quickly learn that you are plying your oar with rowing’s elite, and benefitting from the trainers of the best. The boathouse was opened in 1998 to accommodate high school teams from Lawrenceville and Peddie, and in 2001 the Princeton International Regatta Association (PIRA) was formed to host elite-level events.
An expansion completed in fall 2003 now allows the rowing center to host high school teams, the Mercer Junior Rowing Club, and the U.S. national team. PIRA changed its name in 2005 to Princeton National Rowing Association to reflect its commitment to all levels of rowing.
Nineteen-year-old Oliver Crane, who on January 28 became the youngest person to row alone across the Atlantic Ocean, trained here on Mercer Lake as part of the Peddie School teams. Since 2004 the Princeton-based men’s and women’s national rowing crews have brought home 11 worlds championships and three Olympic gold medals. Since the lake was first made in 1987 it has been the site of Olympic and national team trials as well as official training center for world competition teams.
Glancing around Mercer Lake and watching these competitive crews sweep their oars in perfect harmony may prove a bit deceptive for the novice. Theirs is a hard won excellence that comes with years at the oars and exquisite overall fitness. As lifelong high-level oarsman and PNRA executive director Kris Grudt puts it, “Rowing is right up there with wrestling and cross-country skiing as the most demanding and exhausting of sports. It uses every part of your body.” In short, the first-timer can count on feeling that she has never felt so flabbergastingly fatigued in so few minutes. And after that first 90-minute adult summer rowing session, you will probably be quite thankful that you have a full week to recover.
“But rowing is just something that you’ll fall in love with,” says Gehman. A veteran rower since she competed for Colby College, graduating in 1993, Gehman has maintained her own love of the sport ever since. Her four-woman scull (two oars per person) crew has competed in nationals the last six years. “When you are out on the water,” she says, “and when it’s right on, you feel a unique synchronicity. You sense the fluidity and power knowing that you and your crew are doing it all by yourselves. It also unleashes your competitive side.”
On August 4 all the Adult Summer Rowing League crews will meet and have the opportunity to strut their competitive sides in a final fun regatta. This climatic one kilometer sprint race allows crew members to impress themselves and their families with how far they’ve come, and offers corporate teams the chance to back up their boasts.
#b#Mercer Masters Rowing#/b#
Those who have enjoyed this summer foretaste of making progress by facing backward may continue their rowing experience with the PNRA’s Mercer Masters program. In most sports, graduating into the “masters” category is a polite way of saying that you are no longer a threat to anyone but yourself, and out of athletic compassion as you near dotage, we allow you to continue in your own aging niche.
Not so with rowing. Due to the long tradition of rowing’s connection with school and college teams, men and women athletes officially don the Masters title starting at age 21. And there is no upper limit. You can still find hardy veterans on Mercer Lake who recall the days of pulling all wooden boats with wood oars, and hearing the coxswain’s commands through a funnel-shaped megaphone.
Mercer Masters, sharing the same Summer League facilities, row at the Caspersen Center, and train typically from 5:30 to 7 a.m. Adult rowers of all ages, experiences, and competitive levels are welcome and the coaches will help you find a crew that suits your style. The center offers spring, summer, fall, outdoor sessions, and even indoor winter training. Or those seeking a more individual experience may take up single scull (one person, two oars). For details visit www.rowpnra.org.
Miles Truesdell took up rowing in 1992 for his two years at Washington College in Maryland and then moved on. He hadn’t touched an oar for nearly two decades until a lady rower invited him to sample the Princeton National Rowing Association’s Masters program. He tried eights and fours sweep boats (one oar per person) and even raced a single scull.
“I just got locked into this sport,” says Truesdell. “I became committed to my four-man crew. At first it was three days a week, now it’s a routine of rowing at 5:30 every morning.” In late August, as daylight wanes, you will find this oarsman out with his crew working their way across Mercer Lake in the moonlight, and on into the dawn.
From the Caspersen Boathouse, Truesdell heads straight for his work as director of operations and a commercial photographer at Leigh Visual Imaging at 45 Everett Drive in Princeton Junction. His work is precise, highly creative, and technical. And for this Mercer Master, rowing presents the perfect foil. “This sport is an absolute therapy,” he says. “For 90 minutes each morning every other care drops away. I concentrate solely on my boat, my performance, and my teammates. I can cut loose and be completely physical and competitive — things I cannot be in my job.”
Truesdell’s crew will row in the PNRA’s sprint regattas, which are usually 1,000 meters covered in approximately four exhausting minutes. In addition, he competes in the more demanding 5,000-meter Head of Charles River race in Boston and the Head of Schuylkill River race in Philadelphia, both in late October. “I’ll be 45 in May, I hope to keep at this sport for as long as I can. It’s good people, all pulling in a common cause.”
Those who simply cannot wait for the ice to clear out of Mercer Lake may get a jump on the season at the Caspersen Boathouse training rooms. This time of year the truly devoted may be found bent over the stationary rowing machines sweating their way through the Cardio Erg Fitness program. Coaches combine interval workouts with some light free weight lifting to help athletes burst forth on the lake with greatly enhanced prowess. In addition to the power garnered, it offers the novice an excellent opportunity to develop an improved rowing stroke, along with an introduction to the fellows with whom you’ll be sharing the clubhouse and perhaps a shell.
Above all, rowing is a community. PNRA executive director Grudt shakes his head and smiles, “I cannot imagine a greater team building exercise than everyone working together in a rowing shell. It forms an unforgettable bond.” And it’s more than a little addictive.
Princeton National Rowing Association, 1 South Post Road, West Windsor 08550. Kris Grudt, executive director. 609-799-7100. www.rowpnra.org.