ROCHESTER — The sport of rowing — also known as crew — has a limited past in these parts, particularly at the high-school level. Yet based on enthusiasm from such rowers as Delaney Wintermeyer and her brother, John, local history might be on the verge of rewriting itself.
“I fell in love with the sport more than I could imagine. You can’t stop thinking about it; crew becomes part of your life,” said Delaney, 16.
“There’s almost a peace in it,” added John, 17, saying that when rowing teams achieve smooth synchronization, all one can hear is “the click of the oars and the bubbling of the water.”
The Wintermeyers are far from alone in their love of crew: Fledgling teams at McQuaid Jesuit and Our Lady of Mercy feature more than 30 participants each. John, a McQuaid senior, and Delaney, a Mercy junior, have been with the programs since their inceptions — McQuaid in the spring of 2003 and Mercy in the fall of 2005. These Catholic high schools are the first private institutions in the Rochester area to offer rowing as a varsity sport.
Crew features competition in several categories — in combinations of one, two, four or eight rowers. The standard distance for a rowing course is 2,000 meters (1.24 miles), with shorter and longer distances used depending on the nature of the competition. Crew is an Olympic sport and thrives in many parts of the northeastern United States as well as in Canada, with scholastic regattas generally held in the fall and spring.
In the Rochester area, college programs are active at the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology. Crew has also spread to the high-school level thanks to people such as Jesuit Father James Van Dyke, the founding coach at McQuaid who brought his extensive rowing experience from Buffalo. In their short history the Knights have already won several medals, competing at regattas in such locales as Boston, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse, Saratoga Springs and St. Catharines, Ontario.
Our Lady of Mercy has now joined in the fun as well. The Monarchs are led by head coach Ryan Bernfield, the former women’s coach at Purdue University. Interest at Mercy has been strong from the beginning, and Delaney predicts that it will run even higher by the time the competitive schedule resumes.
“I think spring is going to be insane,” she said.
High-school teams didn’t begin forming around Rochester until the late 1990s, although Mercy did have a rowing club in the 1960s. What has taken crew so long to blossom? The Wintermeyers’ father, John, said that’s a bit of a mystery based on Rochester’s natural settings with both the Genesee River and Erie Canal.
“I don’t know why and how. We’re behind,” remarked Wintermeyer, whose family moved to the Rochester area in 2002 from Toronto. They’re parishioners of St. Thomas More in Brighton.
Wintermeyer and other parents from McQuaid and Mercy are striving to make up for lost time. In 2004 they formed the Friends of Scholastic Crew Inc., a nonprofit organization. The group’s top goals are to secure a site for a local boathouse facility, as well as raise funds to build the boathouse and provide equipment for McQuaid and Mercy. Already the organization has purchased two new boats and four used ones.
Up until now, McQuaid and Mercy have enjoyed friendly relationships with rowing clubs in Pittsford, Fairport and Brighton, gaining access to boathouses, boats, oars and other necessary equipment. The two schools currently partner with Fairport Rowing Club — but as interest in the sport continues to grow, the need for McQuaid and Mercy to create their own facility is becoming more acute. Having a boathouse would allow the schools access to their own indoor training facility. Ideally, they would offer it to other interested scholastic crew programs as well.
“We have talked to four or five schools, and there is genuine interest,” said Wintermeyer, who serves as operations manager for Friends of Scholastic Crew. The group has begun discussions with local and state officials about acquiring land for a boathouse, with the most likely spot being on the Erie Canal in the town of Brighton near the corner of Westfall and East Henrietta roads. According to Wintermeyer, costs for building a boathouse could range anywhere from $150,000 to $750,000. It would be funded through donations and sponsorships, and also possibly through state grant money.
Rowing is not school funded, so the expense can be considerable: Each team member spends approximately $1,000 per school year for dues and traveling. The cost for a new boat — also known as a shell — can be a few thousand dollars for a boat seating one to $30,000 for a boat seating eight. In addition to fiscal matters, rowing involves considerable physical sacrifice. Grueling practice sessions and competitions can take place in all kinds of inclement weather, and it’s not uncommon for teams to hold their practices at the crack of dawn.
Nonetheless, Wintermeyer and his wife, Dawna, noted that crew is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with a particularly high interest among Catholic high schools. According to their son and daughter, rowing emphasizes teamwork and offers a great body workout. Both Delaney and John said they thrive on the individual and team challenges, and plan to pursue the sport in college.
“You put all this work into it, you pour all your soul into it to get anything out of it,” John said, adding that “there’s a whole lot of trust that goes into it — that the person behind you and the person in front of you are rowing as hard as they possibly can.”
“There’s no way to put in words what rowing is. When everything is going right, you can just feel it,” Delaney added. “It makes all the blisters worth it.”