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Selfless and passionate, men’s crew team pursues greatness

There is something beautiful about the perfect crew race. Cued by the pop of a starting gun, oars plunge into the water with vivacity and purpose, driven by eight rowers bounded by countless hours of sweat and pain that build a camaraderie which is unrivaled by other sports.

There is no time or space to give up. Each body in the scull is indebted to the teammate rowing to their front or to their back.

Stroke after stroke, the boat propels into top speed, cutting an impenetrable path in the water.

When a team is in such synchronization and their form is uniformly perfect, it is obvious. Displacing considerable amounts of water after every stroke, the team surges past enemy sculls, reaching a level of excellence that is as desirable as it is challenging.

Sean Fanning, a junior on the Boston College men’s crew team, and his fellow teammates are always on the pursuit of this “perfect race.”

“It’s hard to describe what this 'perfect race' is, it’s definitely something you can’t put into words,” said Fanning. “But you experience that moment of unbelievable pain and intense flow with the other eight guys in the boat and it is an incredible feeling.”

BC rowing is certainly familiar with both the hard work and successes inherent in the sport.

The team did remarkably well in the Head of the Fish Regatta held in Saratoga, NY. Each boat, including the freshman team built of novice rowers, medaled in competition and posted superb times.

The BC men's rowing team had an excellent showing at the Head of the Fish Regatta in Saratoga, NY. Every boat medaled in some fashion. Photo Courtesy of Sean Fanning.

The BC men's rowing team had an excellent showing at the Head of the Fish Regatta in Saratoga, NY. Every boat medaled in some fashion. Photo Courtesy of Sean Fanning.

Performances like these do not come easy, though.

Practices for the BC men’s crew team start at the crack of dawn. Rising out of bed at 5:20 A.M., only a handful of other Boston College students are up when the team is immersed in drills designed to enhance their conditioning.

The team must trek to Community Rowing Inc. on the banks of the Charles in Brighton. Some members of the team even choose to run from campus to the boathouse, logging in a solid run before even gracing the water.

Sets and drills are built to maximize different types of conditioning. One practice, for instance, may include long steady paces designed to improve endurance. Other practices—the ones particularly feared by many members of the BC rowing team—feature short, race-like sprints.

“One workout is an all-out sprint six times for three minutes each piece,” said Fanning. “It is truly a tough practice when that workout is lined up.”

Mike Izzo, a junior rower on the team who is sidelined this year with back problems, likened some practices and most races to “deadlifting 85 pounds for six minutes straight.”

The team takes hard practices in stride, though. They know how important it is to get their bodies in prime condition. In race mode, there is no time for the body to shut down and quit.

Keane Johnson, senior and team captain, noted a bond existent in rowing that cannot be found anywhere else.

The men's V8 in the Head of the Charles River, the world's premier regatta.

The men's V8 in the Head of the Charles River, the world's premier regatta. Photo Courtesy of Sean Fanning.

“Different from all other sports, you aren’t allowed to stop in the middle of a race. In football, basketball, baseball, soccer, you can look at a game on TV and see somebody standing around on the field,” said Johnson, “They have the option to quit during a play. They can make a choice to not run down a ball, but that’s not an option in rowing. You can’t stop.”

In the midst of a race, if the going gets tough and the pain seems too great to carry on, quitting is simply not an option.

No other sport stresses teamwork and motivation more. If one member of the team shows slack or fatigue, it is the responsibility of the other eight members to lift that teammate from their troubles.

The success of the team is contingent on the performances of each member, from the coxswain to the rower. That premise alone makes the sport unique, setting it apart from the typical field sport.

Inching BC rowing closer to national acclaim is an intrinsic love for the sport, too.

Johnson wishes BC could one day attain the prestige that Harvard rowing has, noting his amazement of the team’s boathouse when visiting last winter.

“I got to go to a practice in Harvard's boathouse and their walls were covered with pictures of their team in the 30’s and 40’s with Olympic gold medals hanging around their necks,” he said, “Although we aren't on the same level as them, it's cool to know that we are connected to that history.”

Seeing the passion in all of the team’s actions, one could guess that Johnson wanted to add more to his sentence: One day, BC rowing will be on the same level. We will have Olympic gold medals hanging around our necks.

It is undeniable that each member of the BC crew team, compiling hours upon hours of physically excruciating workouts, desire to reach that level--to launch into the arena of ultimate rowing prestige.

For now, all that the members of the BC crew team can do is look for that “perfect race.” Everything else will fall into place with time--including those medals.