You know how the childhood song goes: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.” That’s not crew. Yes crew is rowing, but the rowing of the RIT men’s and women’s crew teams is anything but gentle. Crew is a sport many are still unfamiliar with, but those who have participated know of the hard work and rich history behind competitive rowing. Despite its obscurity, the sport has a long history and is in fact one of the oldest in the world. With origins as a collegiate sport in 18th century England, competitive rowing spread to America as one of the first intercollegiate sports in the U.S. in the 1800s. In 1852, the first regatta, a series of races, was held between Harvard and Yale. Less than a half decade later, the sport made its Olympic debut at the 1900 Games in Paris.
Fast-forward to 1993, and you’ll find the inception of RIT’s very own varsity crew team. It has since become an elite program in division III — achieving top finishes at such prominent events as the Head of the Charles Regatta, the New York State Collegiate Rowing Championship, the Dad Vail Regatta, and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta. However, the RIT crew team lost the majority of their rowers after the 2010 season, and is looking to their newcomers to step up and perform.
“I think that rowing is a very unique sport, and I think RIT could bring more of it to the community, explain what it is, and bring a little more attention to it,” says second year Industrial and Systems Engineering major Samantha Deakin. Second year Management major and women’s co-captain Devan Musa laments crew’s reputation, saying that, “People don’t think it’s a lot of hard work and that it’s a joke
sport; I don’t think people understand what we’re doing.” Men’s captain and third year Mechanical Engineering student Chris Guerra doesn’t beat around the bush: “It’s just not a hugely popular sport,” he says.
Yet for the people involved in RIT crew, passion for the sport is part of their lives. They take pride in their accomplishments and feel that the work they put in pays dividends, though they say it can be very intense. When asked what they felt were their best accomplishments thus far in crew at RIT most of them stated career accomplishments. Fourth year Mechanical Engineering major Stu Burgess said when he started he was a scrawny freshman, and thought he didn’t have what it took to compete in college. He was also worried about keeping up with academics, but credits his teammates and coaches for getting him through it all. “The coaches and teammates really pushed me to achieve things I never thought I could. Today, I’m feeling great — I’m at 170 pounds and in the best shape of my life.”
Head coach Jim Bodenstedt, who has spent almost two decades coaching crew at RIT, says that rowing in college takes a lot of discipline as well as a strong commitment to the sport. He also says that people who want to row must also be able to balance an academic life with a sports life. When asked which team was going to outshine the other, he said “I think they are going to shine on each other; we have one boathouse, so I always think of us as one team. Yes, we have female athletes and male athletes, but when we’re at a regatta, both crews are cheering each other on, like we’re just one strong family.”