Senior Spotlight: Ben Williams

Ben & Donnie

I’ve spent almost 10 years messing around in boats, but these last two at GVSU have been incredible. When I graduated high school in a suburb of Sacramento, California, I knew that I wanted to row in college. I wasn’t the fastest, and didn’t have a lot of money, so I ended up at a community college called Orange Coast College in the Southern part of the state near Long Beach. This was a transformative experience, and an incredible introduction to collegiate rowing. At the end of my first year there, my freshman 8 won ACRA. Being a junior college, Coach Bancheri knew that all 9 of us were eager to transfer out and finish our rowing careers with competitive college programs, so he came to speak with us. This was the first time I met Coach B, and I had no idea what impact this conversation would have on me. The next year, we were a small program, and I ended up racing a single in Georgia. At this point, I emailed Coach B, and he suggested that I come visit the university. So, I bought a ticket to Grand Rapids and met the team. Grand Valley was more secluded than I was used to living in the outskirts of Los Angeles, but I’d honestly already made my decision. I spent the next year coaching a local high school team and preparing to move almost 2,500 miles from home. It was nerve-wracking, but I was immensely excited to have the chance to row for a 4-year university.

I moved to Allendale over the Summer, just a couple weeks before the team headed off to Henley. Those who stayed took me in and I became a part of this family of oarsmen very quickly. I’ll never forget waking up at three in the morning with some friends to watch the team race in England, it was one of those things that nailed home the community that is the rowing team. As the school year rolled around, we hit the water, and each day was a new experience. I was nervous, and anxious to prove myself. I was walking into a new legacy. Leaving another team behind, and pulling for new people. The strangest dynamic though was that my now teammates were people that I had raced before. Looking out of the boat and seeing different colors on the blade was surreal. We went from competitors to brothers in the span of a few months. In my two years with the team, and the University, I have learned more than I ever thought I could about myself, about the sport, and about the world around me. I have met some of my best friends here, and have built a network that I never would have had if I’d stayed in California. Of course, Winter is a different animal here, but I was well warned, and only spent the first one without boots or a decent coat. Finishing up my undergraduate education, I am excited to go to Henley myself, and see what the future has in store for me. It is incredibly difficult to put into words just what the Laker Navy has done for me.

The Grand Valley State University Rowing Club challenges its student-athletes to reach the highest level to which they aspire both academically and athletically, while continuing to build and sustain a nationally competitive intercollegiate rowing program.

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