SARASOTA, Fla. – Weather wreaked havoc for all 36 squads competing at the 2018 NCAA Rowing Championship in Sarasota, Fla., May 25-26. For Yale, Subtropical Storm Alberto could have sidelined the team completely, if not for the efforts of their fellow Division I crews.
Head coach Will Porter was loading his team to head to the course for Friday morning’s heats when his phone began ringing. Fellow coaches were reaching out to prepare the crew for what they would see when they arrived at Nathan Benderson Park.
“As far as we can figure out, (our Varsity Eight) boat was lifted up, flipped over and landed on top of our Second Varsity Eight,” Porter said. “I immediately notified our boatman, Joel Furtek. When I got to the venue, our boat was under a tent with a swarm of people huddled around it.”
Four holes about the size of a fist went straight through the hull of Yale’s Varsity Eight.
UCF’s Brad Woodrick and Ohio State’s Joe Pipia quickly joined fellow boatman Furtek to repair the Bulldogs’ Second Varsity Eight – which had one hole and a broken fin.
When asked about lending a hand, Woodrick just shrugged, saying his role was “minimal.” Porter called the boatmen unsung heroes, noting that the general public doesn’t realize the affect a boatman has on a team.
As the trio worked on repairs, Porter was joined by coaches from Stanford, Texas and California to reconfigure the setup of the boat.
“We took the riggers, seats and foot stretchers off the Varsity Eight and adjusted them into the Second Varsity,” Porter said.
After the Varsity Eight finished its heat, the boat was immediately flipped back to its Second Varsity configuration. The NCAA delayed the Second Varsity’s heat to allow the crew time to prepare the boat and get back on the water.
“Our athletes were minimally affected thanks to the kindness of so many people,” Porter said. “It was a group effort and nobody batted an eye. It’s just what we do; it’s our culture.”
It’s a testament to the spirit of sportsmanship,” Porter continued. “Rowers are hard-working. It’s not a high-profile sport. I think we’re as competitive as (it gets), but it’s been a sport that’s attracted upstanding people.”
Despite the less than ideal start to the championship, Yale posted Top 10 finishes in all three of its boats, including a sixth-place finish for its Second Varsity Eight. The Bulldogs finished eighth in the team standings, the highest Ivy League finisher for the second straight year.
“I can’t say how refreshing it is,” Porter remarked. “You hear all of these negative stories about coaches and athletes; this is such a positive thing. I just couldn’t thank everybody enough. I’ve been coaching in this sport since 1989 and I was overwhelmed, once things settled down, by everybody’s willingness to help. It’s just wonderful. It makes me proud to be in this sport; proud to be a coach and associate with my peers.”