A Season to Remember By Teddy Kennedy '20

Our junior year season is the most decorated in recent Wesleyan Crew history and certainly in my own rowing career. I was the ninth or 10th fastest guy but managed to get into the 1st Varsity 8 through seat-racing and some luck. That year, we had been given a brand new state-of-the-art Empacher racing shell with carbon wing riggers. We knew we had something special in the boat, but it wasn’t only amazing equipment. We developed a sense of trust and camaraderie like I’ve never felt before. Sadly, we had also lost a coach and mentor in Norm Graf, whose friendship with our Coach, Phil Carney, was not lost on any of us.

Our race pace, however, was yet to be proven. With each race weekend we came to the line genuinely not knowing how we would fare against our challengers, ready to give it everything. It was our start that really worked for us. In the first 20 strokes of the race we would gain half a boat length on the next fastest boat. We would command the lead until we saw the finish line week after week. But we were pushing hard, and it was only through continuous practice and improvement that we stayed ahead and won those races. In rowing, the losing teams give up their “betting shirts,” that is a shirt in their school’s colors and insignia, to the winning team. That season, we won a lot of shirts, but we didn’t care about that. We cared about raising the New England Championship trophy over our heads for Wesleyan, Norm, and Coach Carney, which was only possible if we did it with poise and humility. However, it had been 15 years since Wesleyan’s last New England Championship victory. Indeed, there had only been four Wesleyan Champions in the last 50 years. We had experienced an undefeated regular season, but losing at New England’s would make all of that work nearly meaningless.

As the top six boats lined up in lane 1 for the A final, we saw the usual suspects, Williams, Tufts, Trinity, and especially Bates in lane 2. We were off in an instant. I had never pulled harder in my life, each stroke pushing back the other boats and propelling our bow forward. Despite being up almost a full length by the halfway mark, Bates had pushed into us and almost drawn even with us at the sprint. Our Coxswain let out a bloodcurdling cry, “for Norm, for Phil, for Wesleyan!”

We didn’t actually know if we had won or lost as we went over the line. As it turned out, we won by only .448 seconds over a six-minute race. “Had it been a 2050 meter race,” we later joked, “they might have won.” But, as we lifted the trophy over our heads and as our boat was filled with betting shirts from our cordial competitors, I experienced a moment of satisfaction and bliss that I had never known before. All the work and the sacrifices we had made meant something special. A feeling like this couldn’t be bought and sold. It must be earned, and nobody could ever take it away from us. “We did it” I said, “I don’t know how, but we did it!”

While it is disappointing to lose our season this year, especially given the unprecedented effort and fitness that we developed through hard, grueling workouts during winter training, I can say that I hold that experience even more fondly as a result. We didn’t know what we had at the time and never could have imagined what it would feel like to have a shot at the Championships. But somehow, through everything, we did have a shot that season; we took it; and we made it count."

Created By
Mike O'Brien