Row, Row, Row Your Boat

What it takes to be an athlete at Mount Baker Crew.

Art by Tess Wahl

Art by Tess Wahl

Since 1985, Mount Baker Junior Crew (MBC) has motivated 8th-12th graders to challenge their physical and mental limits; teaching team camaraderie, dedication, and grit. Through bitter rain and wind, Baker athletes train on the Lake Washington waterfront for up to 12 hours a week year round in preparation for regional and national regattas (boat races). 

“I’ve never done anything more difficult than crew,” Noah Rockey, a varsity Baker athlete and junior at Garfield High said. “Its torture.” What’s more, the collectivism of the sport is what makes crew so physically taxing. 

“You push hard because it’s no longer about you,” Katie Njegovan, a Garfield junior and rower at Baker said. When everyone in the boat is hurting too – its easier to give it your all. “You can’t give up,” she said, “You can’t have an off stroke because everyone’s relying on you and you need to pull it together for your team.” In a peculiar way however, rowers attest that the agony is what makes crew so addicting. “Exercising helps you with endorphins,” Njegovan said.

Crew comes with a cost though – it’s very time intensive, so many students find it difficult to balance with homework and other responsibilities. For many, the team takes the top of the to-do list. “I prioritize crew above school,”  Alwin Ma said, a senior at Garfield and four year MBC rower, “I get more stressed about crew than school because of the regattas and [rowing machine] tests.”

It’s also integral that crew athletes take good care of their bodies, as rowing can put a lot of physical stress on them and lead to injuries down the road. Rowers must utilize every major muscle group in their body while repeatedly completing a motion that compresses their lungs, demanding both strength and endurance.  “Just look at our hands,” Njegovan said, “they’re destroyed.” Back problems are another common issue. Instead of stabilizing their core and using their legs to push off the catch and pull the oar in, rowers can over-exhaust the muscles in their backs, leading to lumbar pain and discomfort. Therefore, it’s important for athletes to practice proper form and take the necessary measures to staying  in-shape.  Rocky recommends taking “cold showers and ice baths to help with inflammation and said that “stretching and staying hydrated are very important.” 

Despite the physical challenge, most say that what makes rowing at Baker so special is the community. Gus Shuman, a varsity rower at MBC and Garfield Junior said “our team atmosphere is 100% unique to MBC.” Ma agrees that the community is what rowing at Mount Baker Crew is all about. “From middle school I didn’t really have a lot of friends, but once I joined crew, I met so many people and a lot of them became some of my closest friends,” he said. 

In addition to community, the Baker Shell House location makes rowing especially enjoyable. “You get to see Mount Rainier from the water,” Kelly said.