Winter Training Camp 2011 Men’s Daily Blogs

Day Ten

All of the bowl trophies from Winter Training 2010-11

Captain’s Wrap up and Reflection
By: Marco Benedetti

The Winter Training Florida Trip is drawn to a close, and while I’m filled with a retrospective sense of success, there is also a feeling of relief. If I were to write about how I enjoyed every second of this trip and that everything was perfect and sunny the whole time, every rower reading this would know that I was lying. In reflecting on the trip, it is important that everyone knows that, first and foremost, we were here to work hard and get better. Any time you are challenged to better yourself physically and mentally, there will be bumps along the way. Anyone who has rowed and gone on a training trip knows that there are low points that go along with the high ones. I realize it’s a little atypical to blog about the less enjoyable parts of the trip, but it’s necessary to give an accurate reflection of the trip. This time around, as always, there was tension, frustration, sickness, burnout, and difficult practices (yesterday consisted of a 40k row for the first practice, then 4×1500 seat racing for the second). To add to this, much of our recovery time was spent traveling to the different parts of Florida where we practiced.

We traveled to some really beautiful places over the course of the trip. Here is the team rowing in Naples, FL.

It is important to realize, however, that at the end of all this, despite any frustrations and misgivings, we have become a better team. We are closer as a group than we were before. Everyone made huge technical improvements, both in fixing our shortcomings and perfecting our strong points. We are in much better shape than when we came in, both physically and mentally. The challenges we faced this past week have strengthened us for the challenges that await us this season. In rowing, there is no defense; one has to make their own results. Rather than hoping the competition is slower, we must do everything we can to make sure that we are faster. In other words, we must write the answer rather than ask the question. Trips like this are the building blocks that make up a successful spring. Every stroke, every practice, of every day, took us one step closer to the Dad Vail Final. Every hardship we faced in Florida, although upsetting, prepared us for the ones we will be facing in Philadelphia.

The men grew closer as a team over the break both as friends, and as a better technical crew.

Not that the trip was all bad, quite the opposite actually. Despite being exhausted, everyone had a positive outlook and came to practice every day ready to improve. The traveling, although tiring, took us to a number of new cities that we wouldn’t have been able to go to otherwise (I’m sure a number of guys will list New Years in Miami Beach as the highlight of their trip). The best part of the trip for me was the long steady state row we did in pairs and singles. This was the type of practice I had been looking forward to all week; being able to go out in the perfect weather and focus on improving my technique in the small boat. It was a great feeling to be gliding along the water at a 14, loading up the catch, and whipping the blade through the drive, before striking to the balance and challenging ourselves to get our blades off the water on the recovery for yet another stroke. As much as I hate to admit it, the next best experience for me was the 4×1500 we did at Benderson Park. The typical pressure of seat racing was not on us because of how early in the season it is. Everyone seemed relaxed and focused, and each race was hard fought and intense. Having eighteen athletes out there racing full throttle was a great way of showing how far we’d come as a team in just one short week. Seat racing always sucks, and this was no exception, but the best part of rowing is the racing, and we got to get in four good races at an excellent race course.

The men working in pairs in Osprey, FL.

Sarasota has been my favorite location for a training trip thus far. Everything was simple and convenient; our hotel was close to the venue and provided us with breakfast every morning. The people at the Sarasota County Rowing Club were friendly and accommodating, always willing to help out. The water was good and there was more than enough (maybe even too much?) water for us to explore. In addition, Benderson Park was close by, which provides a high class racing environment where we can do our speed work. Like I stated in a previous blog, the two venues compliment one another, which made Sarasota a fantastic place to train. We were lucky enough this time around to be taken in by a number of generous friends of Grand Valley Rowing. They, and everyone who has been a part of and supported GV Rowing, made this unique and unforgettable trip possible for the team. I am wrapping this blog up in the terminal of the Charlotte Airport. I will soon return to Columbus to finish out my winter break, before heading back to Allendale to resume training. We will continue to increase the intensity of our training in order to move toward making 2011 another successful and historic year for the Laker Navy!

The boats resting on Snake Island during a row over Winter Training. Sarasota was a great place to train.

The Grand Valley men encounter a shark while in transit home!

Day Ten

By: Laura Kivell, Coxswain
Year & Major: Junior, Psychology
Hometown: Ada, MI
High school: Forest Hills Central
Height & Weight: 5’ 3”, 115lbs.

It feels so good to be home! After such a long week, it is nice to be able to relax with family and friends over dinner. We had an awesome, yet exhausting week, and it was nice to come home and be much more tan than everyone here in Michigan!
The day began early, with us being at the launch site around 6am. We wanted to get in a last row before a good amount of us caught a 10:25 plane home, so the early morning was needed. We finished the Final bowl of the Grand Valley Rowing “Bowl Season” with the Minnie the Moocher bowl, in honor of the dolphin that kept coach company over the week. We rowed down in 8’s for about ten or fifteen minutes, sun the boats and waited to start the race. The design of the Minnie the Moocher bowl was a simple one that encompassed all of the different aspects of rowing that we have been working on during this training camp. The race as Propulsion per Stroke race, with each stroke and the time it takes counting for points and the team with the lowest point value winning the bowl. Each stroke counted for 5 points, and each second counting for one point. The important part of the race was the need to keep the stroke rate low: each stroke was worth 5 points, so the less strokes the better. What I liked was that the coxswains course because crucial in this race; the less distance between the start line and the finish, the better. Minnie the Moocher appeared at the starting line to help begin the race.

Minnie the Moocher starting the race

After the points were totaled up, Tamara’s boat, “The Bouwmans” finished up with a time of 14:07 and 247 strokes, totaling 2082 points. In my boat, “Bob ‘the Animal’ Sawiki” we finished up with a time of 13:58 and 240 strokes, totaling 2038 points.

The winners of the Minnie the Moocher bowl, from left to right: Zak Armstrong/Lawton, MI; Tyler Sellmer/Peachtree, GA; Laura Kivell/Ada, MI; Adam Wlodkowski/Southgate, MI; Jimmy Wilkie/Whitmore Lake, MI; Jake Bouwman/Hudsonville, MI; Tucker Anderson/Rockford, MI; Brendan Sawyer/South Lyon, MI; and Justin Wegner/East Grand Rapids, MI.

After the race, we went back to the hotel for a quick team breakfast at Morgan’s Restaurant, followed by a bit of frantic packing, and then we left for the airport. The Punta Gorda airport was packed; with a whole two planes leaving, haha. We made it through security and onto the plane, headed home.

The Punta Gorda Airport

This week was very intense, although helpful. We got in a lot of good miles (many of them yesterday!) and I feel just a bit more prepared for spring season.

Day Ten

By: Tyler Sellmer, Starboard, Logistics Coordinator
Year and Major: Junior, Accounting
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
High school: McIntosh High School
Height and Weight: 5′11″, 175 lbs

Operation Polar Hibernation

Today was another busy day, our last busy day of the trip. We started the morning out with a 0600 practice, the early hour necessitated by the fact that we needed to have people to the airport in time for their 10:30am flights.

After our practice, we moved on to breakfast and then split into groups. Coach Bancheri took the larger airport group to one airport in our large van, Captain Brendan Sawyer took the smaller airport group to Sarasota international, and I took a third group in the team truck and spearheaded the loading of the trailer.

During winter and Spring break, the trailer has the most boats and equipment, in the most complicated configuration of any time of the year. Unlike when we loaded the trailer in Michigan, where we spread the loading over five days, we had only a few hours to do it. Coach made it easier by arranging to store two pairs at the Sarasota County Rowing enclosure, freeing up much needed rack space and simplifying our task.

Needless to say, in the midst of the morning rainstorm, we pounded the work out and got everything on the trailer, with all the important, valuable, and fragile equipment inside the cab of the truck itself.

Grand Valley Rowing Trailer fully loaded and ready for storage

Once that task (the most daunting of the day) was accomplished, we dropped off the launch at Sarasota Rowing’s enclosure, finalized our packing, and left the hotel for the last time.

We headed North on I-75 and stopped to drop off the boat trailer and truck at another rowing storage site. They will hibernate there until we retrieve them at the beginning of spring break in March. This move is advantageous because it will not only save wear and tear on the truck and trailer, as well as fuel to transport the trailer, but it will keep our shells away from the frigid, icy climate of Western Michigan.

From there we concluded Operation Polar Hibernation and headed North toward my home in Peachtree City Georgia, where the team will bed down for the night, continuing their Northward trek tomorrow. The rest of my day, and in fact my weekend will be occupied with transit, so here is where I end my report.

Overwatch Out.

Day Nine

By: Marco Benedetti
Year & Major: Junior, Statistics
Hometown: Upper Arrlington
High School: Upper Arrlington High School
Height & Weight: 6’3”, 175lbs

Today began, as always, with an early breakfast before practice. Getting to the practice site, we had no idea what this practice had in store. We rowed about 20k upstream, all the way to the VanderArk’s house, before spinning and rowing allll the way back. Practiced consisted of some CAT VI by sixes, with drills such as outside/inside hand only and pauses, all with the goal of honing our ability to strike to the balance and establish proper body angle early in the recovery. The rest of practice was by eights with even more CAT VI and about an hour all together of CAT IV-V, with the two eights fighting it out for bragging rights. We came in after about three and a half hours tired and ready for a few hours of rest before heading off to our second practice of the day.

The second practice was at the Benderson Park race course. This facility already boasts a fantastic fully buoyed 1500 meter course that has been home to numerous regattas, and will soon be expanding to a full 2000 meter course with the hopes of hosting prestigious national and international regattas. We were lucky to have two local coxswains, Grant and Anthony, join us for practice. Once the four 4+’s were off the trailer and rigged, we set of into the water for 4×1500 of seat racing. There was a strong tail wind going down the course which created some heavy chop out in the middle of the lake, but our lanes had plenty of shelter and provided fair racing conditions all around. My boat won the first two pieces, the first by one length and the second by one length open water. I was switched to another four for the third piece and we placed a solid third, although a ways back from the top two, whose race for the top spot came down to less than a seat. One more set of switches were made, and my four came out on top in what was definitely the closest and most exciting race of the day. There was almost a completely even break off the line, and the crews stayed relatively close through the first thousand. The last 500 was an all out grudge match over places one and two, and for three and four. Guys were yelling to get each other pumped, coach even pitched in by honking his horn as he followed us down the race course in his truck. Overall, the racing at Benderson Park was excellent. Being in close proximity, the miles of water of the Intercoastal water way and the high quality race course of the Benderson Park compliment one another, making Sarasota a great place to train. It it always a great feeling to be trading bow balls with another crew on such a great course, but to be doing so in January is even better!

Exhausted from our brutal day of training, we departed for a much appreciated Paella dinner from John Reichner and his wife Maria Marin. John rowed at the University of Pennsylvainia and coached at the University of Virginia while he was in law school, and his son rowed at the University of Texas. They showed us incredible hospitality as well as great cooking! The authentic Paella consisted of saffron rice, clams, muscles, chicken, fish, shrimp, scallops, calamari, and “secret seasoning.” In addition, we were treated to spanish meatballs, salad, fruit, soufle, roast beef, and even ice cream. It was great to just kick back after such a long day, and was another example of the fantastic generosity that has been displayed towards our team throughout this trip. Tomorrow we have a final practice at 6:00 AM before heading home.

The mens team seat racing at Benderson Park

Marias Paella and bowl

Maria Marin and husband John Reichert with the winners of Marias Paella Bowl. From left to right: Robert Deweerd, Holland, MI; Jimmy Wilkie, Detroit, MI; Marco Benedetti, Columbus, OH; Marty Reed, Lincoln Park, MI.

Day Nine

By: Thomas Sawicki, Starboard
Year and Major: Freshman, Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Dearborn Heights, Michigan
High school: Crestwood High School
Height and weight: 6’, 145 pounds

This mornings practice was a long one. We rowed from Sarasota to Venice. The practice was a nice row down to the Vander Ark’s house. Though it was long row back I feel the team really learned a lot from the row.

A coxswain’s view of the boat.

The Vander Ark’s home where we rowed to today.

We went out in two eights. I personally was in “The Bouwmans” which is a nice Resolute that stays settled in the water. The other boat was “The Animal” which is a Vespoli. Todays goal was to combine it all of the technical aspects of the trip into one practice: posture, timing, balance, control and touch. We started out with some pause drills. After we went past Snake Island we worked on our balance by rowing by sixes and eights. We went under about 5 bridges while a sail boat was behind us. So the bridges were open. When we reached our destination we turned around and had a small picnic on the boats of snickers, oranges, bananas, and Gatorade. After we ate we had a team picture with the Vander Arks house in the background. The way back was we did 15 minute pieces which turned into a race back to the last bridge bridge. which was a nice end to a long practice. When we reached shore I was happy it was over. We later found out that we had rowed about a 40k. This equates to about 20 miles or so.

We rowed under a lot of bridges on the way there, a lot of them opened because there was a large sailboat ahead of us.

Bringing the boats together and taking a break halfway through our row.

The Team!

Day Eight

By: Robert DeWeerd, Starboard
Year & Major: Junior, Criminal Justice
Hometown: Holland, Michigan
High School: Holland High School
Height & Weight: 6′2″, 165lbs

After getting to spend some time at the beach in Naples we headed to Naples Bay for “Beth’s Flamingo Bowl”. This bowl competition consisted of nine thirty stroke pieces that were each around one minute in length. After each piece we switched a rower from one boat to the other, which turned our pieces into an unofficial seat race. Although it was one of the more physically rather than mentally challenging practices that we’ve had, I think most would agree it was enjoyable to put some pieces in at race pace. These pieces were done in a channel where we had many boats watching us along with customers from The Boathouse on the Bay restaurant where our pieces ended.

“Beth’s Flamingo Bowl” was done in memory of Beth, the sister in-law of our coach, who passed away this past summer. Although she had no direct link to Grand Valley besides our coach, she on numerous occasions made donations to the team, which in the past made events like this possible. I never got the chance to meet her, but from what I have been told from coach and others is that Beth would have loved this. She never needed an excuse to have fun. And this event combined her love of the water, the spirit of competition, and young people celebrating life. She would have toasted this event with great joy.

Aunt “Beft”

Rowing by the Boathosue on the Bay Restaurant

“Where ever you go, go with all your heart.”

Day Eight

By: Keegan Jahnke, Starboard
Year & Major: Sophomore, Exercise Science
Hometown: Green Bay, WI
High School: Saline High School
Height & Weight: 6’4” 180lbs

The sun was shining bright at eleven am after we finished the morning practice. To be honest, riding in the van back to the hotel was not pleasant because it smelled like 12 rowers after a two hour workout. When we returned everyone was very hungry so we formed a PB&J assembly line for mass production. Some guys were spreading peanut butter, some guys spread jelly and the rest put them together and into zip-lock bags. Most of the sandwiches were eaten before we left for Naples, but some made it into the van. After lunch we hit the road to Naples, FL but got a little side tracked along the way. Tyler, the man driving, was looking at directions to the park we were going to tomorrow and ended up getting off on the wrong exit. We drove in one big circle and got right back onto the highway, this time in the right direction. Once we reached Naples, we had to rig the boats in front of the Boathouse on the Bay restaurant. After we rigged boats we drove through downtown to get to the beach. There were tons of fancy, high class restaurants and shops that I would have liked to go to, but I had no cash, so the beach was the next best option. The sand was hot, the water was cold and the girls were fine. We walked along the beach to the pier and watched about 30 to 40 people fish- nobody caught anything. As we only had an hour, we were not be at the beach long enough to get a tan. Once our short stint at the beach was done we headed back to the Boathouse on the Bay restaurant for our second practice.

The Boathouse on the Bay Resturant

Day Eight

By: Jacob Bouwman, Starboard
Year & Major: Sophomore, Exercise Science
Hometown: Zeeland, Michigan
High School: Hudsonville High School
Height & Weight: 6’6″, 215lbs

This morning’s practice was a long steady state, so we could work on pause and stationary drills. These drills are very important because it helps everyone to focus on the balance in the small boats. Being in the smaller boats helps a lot with balance when we get into the bigger boats even though it may be frustrating. When you are in a pair it is much harder to set compares to the larger 8+, where you have a larger surface area and seven other people to help. The drills that we worked on were pause at 1 inch away with shoulders in the bow, then to hands away, followed by pausing at the pivot with elbows over the knees. The drills helped me control the stroke and get the length that I need to move the boat under me. We rowed up stream to Snake Island, which is a small Island that had a beach and picnic area. There where we had a team stretch that was well needed after the steady state up in the pair. I got out of the pair and felt fantastic, and I told coach of a revelation I had reached in the first half of practice. I finally felt comfortable in the pairs, like I finally understood what I need to do to row them well.

After a quick break and few team pictures, we got back into boat. This half, I was in the three seat of a four, and the difference when being in the four is that there are four people trying to set the boat all at once, so any adjustments they make affect the entire boat. On the row back in you could really feel when the other people in the boat were trying to set the boat just as much as I was, which threw off the set even more. With a little bit of relaxation we were able to set the boat more effectively and just let the stroke happen. When we returned to our cove, tide was out and we had to walk our boats over the sand bar to bring them in!

Low Tide in Osprey, FL.

Men’s Varsity Rowing Team practicing in pairs on the Intercoastal waterway in Osprey, FL.

Men’s Varsity Rowing Team on Snake Island in Osprey, FL.

Day Seven

By: Tucker Anderson
Year and Major: Junior, Accounting
Hometown: Rockford, Michigan
High school: Rockford High School
Height and Weight: 6’3”, 200 pounds

The afternoon practice started with a trip to Lifestyle fitness where we were able to continue our weights program. The weights contrasted nicely with the long distance training we have been doing. After the weights session we were back on the water for the last practice of the evening.

We went out in two coxed 4+’s and two straight 4-‘s. The goal of today’s practice was to work on Balance. In order to achieve the Balance we needed to combine the previous days focus points, Posture, Control, Timing, and Touch. We started out doing stationary drills where we only needed to focus on the technical aspect and not worry about pulling hard. The workout for the evening was 3x19min PYR. In between the pieces we had the GVSU Laker Donor bowl, where the goal was to row tickless, the blades off the water, for as many consecutive strokes as possible. After the second PYR, the coxed Anderson led with a combined 30 tickless strokes, the Penny had 12 tickless strokes, the coxed Urey had 10 tickless strokes, and the Lawrence finished with 5 tickless strokes. We were supposed to do a third 19min Pyramid but it was quickly getting too dark to see so we just rowed it back to the launch site. Our little bow lights we use on the Grand River aren’t quite safe enough for the intercoastal waterway.

As an addition to our practice, Zak’s grandparents joined Coach B in the launch. They enjoyed watched us row, but had a little bit of difficulty understanding all of the rowing terminology Coach was using. What had the trip memorable for them was the fact that Minnie the Moocher paid them a visit, almost onto coach’s launch! Minnie the Moocher is a local dolphin that is commonly seen swimming in the area where we row. Zak’s grandparents did not believe Coach when he said that the dolphin would swim right up to the boat, and they were stunned when she did. They took some fantastic pictures of her and from what Zak has told me, watching our parade of boats and seeing Minnie really made their day.

Day Seven

By: Andrew “Taco” Zwierzynski, Port
Year and Major: Sophomore, Pre-Law and Accounting
Hometown: New Carlisle, Indiana
High School: New Prairie High School
Height and Weight: 6’, 185lbs

We ended our morning practice and washed down all the boats around noon. From there we walked across the street to Casey Key Fish House. All of the guys were really excited to finally get to eat there. We had heard about how great the food was and always smelled it when we passed by the restaurant on our rows.

Casey Key Fish House, Osprey, FL

We were joined for lunch by a number of distinguished Grand Valley Alumni and supporters. Bob Monaghan and Nancee Miller, who we had met the day before at Ft. Hamer joined us again, along with Don and Diane Paton, and Bob Seif. Bob Monaghan, Don, and Diane were all in the very first graduating class from Grand Valley in 1967, and Diane was the first student to ever be admitted to Grand Valley State College. Nancee graduated in the second class from Grand Valley. As we learned the day before, Bob Monaghan was a member of the first crew team at Grand Valley under Dr. Irwin in 1964, and Nancee was the Director of Alumni relations for many years and spearheaded the building of the current Alumni House on the Allendale campus. Don Paton’s son rowed for Grand Valley in 1999, and Bob Seif is a Grand Rapids native and long time friend of the University. It was great to hear so much about our school in its early days and the Grand Valley Alumni Association surprised us by paying for our lunch at the Casey Key Fish House. All of them have a huge passion for the University and their love for it could be heard when they told old stories at lunch.

The lunch was delicious. I had the fish tacos with beans and rice. A lot of the guys ordered the fish and chips or one of their hamburgers. The tacos were really good they had cheese, pico de gallo, and seasoning on them. After dinner coach told us that we couldn’t go down to Florida without having a slice of key lime pie. I was really skeptical at first since I had never had key lime pie before and had no idea how it would taste. I thought it would taste a lot like a lime and I wouldn’t like it, but I tried it anyways. It was completely different then I imagined it would taste. It tasted a lot like cheesecake with a bitter sour taste at the end and a hint of lime. After dinner we chatted with the alumni some more and took some pictures with them, then went back to the hotel to get ready for our next practice.

Grand Valley Varsity Men’s Rowing team at Casey Key Fish House in Osprey, FL. Also joining the team are (front row, left to right) Bob Seif, Diane Paton (’67), Don Paton (’67), Nancee Miller (’68), and Bob Monaghan (’67)

Day Seven

By: Chad Condon, Port
Year & Major: Sophomore, Business
Hometown: East Grand Rapids, MI
High School: East Grand Rapids
Height & Weight: 6’1” 180lbs

This morning we got to sleep in a little before our first practice, which started at ten. We went out in pairs and fours, really focusing on technique and improving finesse. The tide was very low at the beginning of practice, so to get to the main part of the Intercostal Waterway we had to step out of our boat and then walk it across an area of very shallow water. While walking through the sand bar I stepped on a huge clam and it was so big that it felt as though my whole foot slipped in- luckily I didn’t get cut. This was the first day that we have seen the tide so low because usually our practice times have lined up with high tide. Once we all got back in our boats, we all refocused and began the actual practice. We started with stationery drills then progressed to drive drills and finally to pause drills. During practice, Coach gave us t-shirts that were made to commemorate this trip. They were given to us as a reward for going from release to half slide five times, without having the blades hit the water, which all of the team achieved.

Front of t-shirt

Back of t-shirt

Also today, while we were in the channel, a dolphin (Minnie the Moocher) was swimming around us as we were doing drills. This was the first time I had seen the dolphin on this trip and she scared me in the beginning because she swam was so close. I thought she might flip our boat but after a little while she lost interest and left us alone. It was a good technical row and we were off the water by noon, which was good because the Alumni Association was buying lunch for us then!

Chad Condon (East Grand Rapids, MI) and Jake Bouwman (Hudsonville, MI) getting ready for practice

Day Six

By: Justin Wegner, Port
Year and Major: Sophmore, Engineering
Hometown: East Grand Rapids, Michigan
High School: East Grand Rapids High School
Height and Weight: 6’2″ 160lbs

After a relaxing morning and a hearty breakfast at the hotel restaurant the team packed up and headed off to a new rowing facility at Ft. Hamer Park where we would be having practice for the day. Upon arrival we unloaded two eights from the trailer rigged them and put the launch in the water.

Once the boats were rigged coach introduced us to a number of Grand Valley alumni and supporters of our trip who had come down to Ft. Hamer Park to watch us practice. The alumni were Bob Monaghan and Nancee Miller. Bob Monaghan is an alumnus of Grand Valley who rowed on the very first crew team in 1964 under the direction of Dr. Irwin, and presented the winners with the “Alumni Crewz Bowl” trophy. Nancee Miller is also a Grand Valley alumnus and former Director of Alumni Relations, and graciously baked the team cookies as a much needed snack after the long row. We each told them a little about ourselves before coach gave a quick talk about the things we would be focusing on during the practice. Today we focused on getting the legs down on the drive, a strong finish, and a high blade carry.

Grand Valley Varsity Men’s team getting a chalk talk from Coach Bancheri at Fort Hamer Park before going out for a row and the Alumni Crewz Bowl

We then launched and got practice started. Rowing by sixes we worked on the technique and the previously mentioned focus points for the practice. We rowed up to the I-75 bridge where we stopped and practice switched gears. Coach gave each boat a bag full of water balloons and kept a bag or two for himself. We turned the boats around and lined up for the “Grand Valley Alumni Bowl” race. This race was another in our series of “bowls” this week and consisted of a long game of leap frog, but the twist was that the team “leaping” was vulnerable to a barrage of water balloons from the opposing team. points were awarded for direct hits to rowers, captains, coxswains and even Coach Bancheri. Points were totaled to determine the winner at the end of practice. My boat won the bowl and we were awarded the alumni trophy.

Winners of the “Alumni Crewz Bowl”. Pictured are (left to right) Jimmy Wilkie/Whitmore Lake, MI; Adam Wlodkowski/Southgate, MI; Zak Armstrong/Lawton, MI; Tyler Sellmer/Peachtree, GA; Jacob Bouwman/Hudsonville, MI; Bob Monaghan/GVSU Rowing Alumnus; Marco Benedetti/Upper Arrlington, OH; Brendan Sawyer/South Lyon, MI; Justin Wegner/East Grand Rapids, MI; and Tamara Hillman/Gregory, MI.

Thats not all there was to practice today though. During the race back to the boathouse we took a long turn and ended up getting turned around in a mangrove. The race was… delayed for about a half an hour as we found our way back to the channel. Luckily the guest coach, Justin Knust, from the Orlando Area Rowing Association (OARS) had a GPS on his phone so we were able to find our way out.

Once we got back to the boathouse we had been on the water for about 3 hours. We were all exhausted and ready for dinner. We de-rigged the boats and loaded them back on the trailer and headed off to dinner. We ate at Woody’s River Roo bar which is a local bar and restaurant on the water that we rowed past during practice. They had live music and good food. After dinner we loaded back up in the cars and headed back to the hotel to get some rest before another long day of practices tomorrow.

Day Six

By: Tyler Sellmer, Starboard, Logistics Coordinator
Year and Major: Junior, Accounting
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
High school: McIntosh High School
Height and Weight: 5′11″, 175 lbs

Operation Polar Pairing – Phase V – Excursion to Ft. Hamer Park

Today was another Benchmark Day for Grand Valley Rowing. As always, it was a day in which my main focus was logistics; how to get who to where and when. Luckily, my job was made easier by our destination, the new rowing facility at Ft. Hamer Park. The facility, which is nearing completion, is already outfitted with a fantastic dock, readily accessible rigging space, and two long hoses near the landing zone to wash the saltwater off our boats as they emerge from the calm majestic cove that boats enter and can row in immediately when they leave the dock.

As always, the starting block of the logistics for this trip began with loading the equipment, most importantly the shell trailer. Unlike Operation Polar Evacuation, this loading was simplified by the fact that we did not have to bring shells for the entire team for spring break, but rather just the two eights we would be using today. So, we threw on the two boats, a couple sets of slings, riggers and oars, and bam! We were ready to roll, and when we got there we would be ready to row.

We had an additional task while we were loading. As we have not been using all the boats brought down on the trailer, some of the eights were still loaded. Additionally, we will be storing the boats outdoors for the next two months. This means that unlike during transit, when the idea is to have your most expensive boats on the top rack where they are safest, we need to shift our older boats to the top rack, which will receive the brunt of the sun and weather damage. We accomplished much of this task today, as we had the trailer out and people around.

Shifting the story back to the racecourse, there are quite a few good logistical features that make the course a good venue (above the three I mentioned in my introduction). First of all, the course is within easy reach of Interstate 75, which all can tell simply by its odd number, is a North-South artery. Michiganders and Georgians together also know that it is THE road, connecting the Midwest with the sunshine state, and having such a road only three miles away is an invaluable asset for a rowing venue.

The water is also great. It has what I consider two main types of water within reach of the docks. The first thing you row through is the mangrove protected inlet that leads out to the main channel. These inlets provide excellent protected water for both racing and drilling. Past these mangrove groupings (which the team explored extensively during practice today) is the less protected expanse of the waterway that leads under the I-75 Bridge and to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, an area where true mileage is available to crews.

Overall, I would rate this as a rowing venue with a massive amount of potential. It has the water and the highway access, two things which cannot easily be built. Their next task will be to construct more traffic and parking areas for the course, something that is both cheap and easy with the excess land around the site they chose. I look forward to visiting this course again, as my logistics coordinating job and our practice will be much much better as a result.

Map of Ft. Hamer Waterway

Day Five

By: Zak Armstrong, Port
Year and Major: Junior, Marketing and Management
Hometown: Lawton, MI
High school: Lawton High School
Height and Weight: 6’ 4”, 195 lbs

A worry free night in Miami during New Years was well appreciated after long rows in both Miami and Sarasota. We actually ran into the Grand Valley swim team there in downtown Miami. Small world. Anyways, it was nice to be able to sleep in this morning.

Somewhere around 1pm we headed to Siesta Beach to spend a couple of hours and we were greeted by white beaches and old people. I was fascinated by the soft texture of the sand, to me it felt like a silk bag full of puppy ears, it was so soft. We spent our beach time wandering the shores looking at the scenery and I was fascinated by the wildlife- at one point I found a crab on the walk and it tried to pinch me when I picked it up. I got scared and dropped it but overall, it was a fun trip and a nice break from training.

Our practice today, which was a continuation of our “bowl season,” consisted of the Sarah Z. and Coach Mark “Barbie” Bowl. Apparently the title “Barbie” came from a nickname Sarah was given by the her teammates due to her tendency to beautify herself before morning practices during her novice year when she rowed in the first varsity women’s eight at Grand Valley.

The guidelines for the competition were to complete five, 360 degree rotations in pairs per rower, so ten rotations total. At the end, the rowers would add up the amount of strokes it took to complete the five rotations. For example, if it took Rower A 50 strokes to finish five rotations and Rower B 50 strokes, then their pair would tally 100 strokes total. Whichever pair did it in the least amount of strokes wins the Sarah and Mark “Barbie” Bowl. The idea of this Bowl was to be able to jump on the catch quickly and maximize the propulsion per stroke. The winning pair just so happened to be Jimmy Wilkie and myself with a total of 151 strokes. We finished off the day with a team dinner at a Chinese buffet and reviewing video over yesterday’s practice.

Winners of the Sarah Zelenka and Mark McIlduff “Barbie” Bowl

Day Five

By: Marty Reed, Port
Year: Junior
Major: History
Hometown: Lincoln park, MI
Highschool:Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Height & Weight: 6 ft, 210 lbs

This morning, the Grand Valley Rowing Team went to Siesta Keys, a beach along the Gulf of Mexico. We left in the afternoon and spent good quality time relaxing after a few days of hard and insightful training. The boat that won yesterdays Miami Beach Bowl posed for pictures with their trophy. The beach was really nice; the sand was a powder like substance unlike the beaches back home. It is different from other beaches back in Michigan because the beaches in Michigan are mainly tough and filled with quartz. Here, the beaches are soft like a powder. It could not have been a more perfect day for the beach and I spent most of the time there walking along the Gulf with teammates. We spent about two and a half hours there, and then after we got back to work. Our practice was in singles and pairs and in the beginning I was in a single working on balance, trying to get my blades off the water and working on applying pressure right off the catch. Later in the practice, I switched out of the single into the pair. Costas Ciungan and I took out one of the President’s Pairs. Costas comment on the practice was that this evening’s row was very effective in the aspect of training our team not just to yank on the oar but suspend on the oar. Our team was able to make changes and adjustments and get automatic feedback depending if the pair turned faster after the adjustment was made. Those rowers that made changes could feel and see if their changes were effective if the boat turned quicker with fewer strokes.

Beautiful day for the beach!

Day Four

By: Brendan Sawyer, Starboard
Year & Major: Senior, International Relations
Hometown: South Lyon, Michigan
High School: South Lyon High School
Height & Weight: 6’1″, 157lbs

On New Year’s Eve we traveled from Sarasota to Miami for the Miami Beach Ball Bowl, and had a fun time rowing along huge yachts, doing Propulsion Per Stroke races along the way, with the Dream Team boat winning. We got coached by Vincent Puma, a Georgetown and former US National Team coxie, so our coxies benefited greatly from his extensive coxing experience. Blue waters greeted us in Miami and it was beautiful. We were tempted by the busy city street along the water, but we had work to do. Vincent even spent some time in our boats, and coached us from the coxie seat, which was very beneficial.

After rowing along the hotels, we went to downtown Miami for New Year’s, and some of us went to a concert on the beach, seeing Leona Lewis and Natasha Bedingfield live. It was really an awesome experience for the night. The smooth sandy beach was free of clams and the like, and we had a lot of fun leading up to midnight. Afterward we returned to Sarasota to rest and recover for the remainder of our time here.

Lots of good technical advances are being made here, particularly by the younger guys, and I look forward to seeing what happens over the rest of the week. Intense video sessions are allowing us to look at our technique carefully, and make adjustments to our rowing accordingly.

Miami Beach New Year’s celebration concert

Day Four

By: Costas Ciungan, Starboard
Year and Major: Freshmen, Business
Hometown: Grosse Ile, Michigan
High school: Grosse Ile High School
Height and Weight: 6’2″, 175 lbs

Today was a very eventful day full of beautiful weather, scenery, and most of all rowing with learning and coaching. Our team took a three and a half hour drive to South Beach to participate in the Miami Beach Ball Bowl. We arrived in Miami and immediately went to the Miami Beach Rowing club and our hosts Vladamire and Vinny Puma showed us around the boat club. The boat house is situated on a channel named Indian Creek. After we signed waivers, we proceeded to the shell house where our team was given a generous permission to use two eights with oars and access to a coaching launch. The two eights were beautiful Vespoli top of the line boats, one black named the Perfect Storm and the other white named Jade Avalon. After the coxies got a brief chalk talk by Vinny Puma, a highly decorated coxie in the sport of rowing with over two dozen Canadian Henley medals, over 80 U.S. gold medals, and the coxie of the U.S. National team for many years, we hit the water going south on the Indian Creek.

Our team rowed under beautiful bridges, past million dollar yachts, houses, condos, and hotels. The sun was beaming down and off the many palm trees we were surrounded by. There were spectators everywhere, taking pictures and interested in what we were doing, as it was New Years eve and many tourists were in Miami. Our row started with a focus on backing the blade in and dropping the blade in at the precise catch angle and also with an attention to stay focused. Vinny Puma accompanied us out on the water, even switching in to give our crews head on coaching from the pulpit of the coxie position. We rowed by sixes on the square, and by fours later in the row, and switched to feathering after we did pause drills with catch placement and inside and outside hand rowing. Towards the end we got into a couple pieces, mostly boats working off each other but towards the end, the Miami Beach Ball Bowl was off in full swing with each crew aspiring to take first.

Winners of the Miami Beach Ball Bowl. Pictured left to right are Tamara Hillman/ Gregory, Mi; Justin Wegner/ East Grand Rapids, Mi; Brendan Sawyer/ South Lyon, Mi; Chad Condon/ East Grand Rapids, Mi; Keegan Jahnke/ Green Bay, Wi; Zak Armstrong/ Lawton, Mi; Tyler Sellmer/ Peachtree City, GA; Jimmy Wilkie/ Wyandotte, Mi; Adam Wlodkowski/ Southgate, Mi. Tamara Hillman subbed for Vinny Puma because he was unavailable at the time.

The results of the Miami Beach Ball Bowl was the Jade Avalon in first (Justin Wegner/ East Grand Rapids, Mi; Brendan Sawyer/ South Lyon, Mi; Chad Condon/ East Grand Rapids, Mi; Keegan Jahnke/ Green Bay, Wi; Zak Armstrong/ Lawton, Mi; Tyler Sellmer/ Peachtree City, GA; Jimmy Wilkie/ Wyandotte, Mi; Adam Wlodkowski/ Southgate, Mi; Cox: Vinny Puma). The Perfect Strom took 2nd ( Marco Benedetti/ Columbus, OH; Robbie DeWeerd/ Holland, Mi; Tucker Anderson/ Rockford, Mi; Jacob Bouwman/ Hudsonville, Mi; Marty Reed/ Lincoln Park, Mi; Costas Ciungan/ Grosse Ile, Mi; Andrew Zwierzinski/ New Carlisle, IN; Tom Sawicki/ Wyandotte, Mi; Cox: Laura Kivell/ East Grand Rapids, Mi ). After dodging a couple yachts our crews turned to head in with a focus on putting everything together. As we rowed into the dock, our team was surprised by a Mexican band who saw us and just started to play Mexican music, which was interesting and unique. We got our boats out of the water, rinsed down our equipment, put all the equipment back in our hosts shell house, then took showers and changed for the evening in South Beach. Overall a good evening practice for our team with a great break down speech from Vinny Puma.

Photo of the men rowing on Indian Creek in Miami Beach, FL

Day Four

By: Adam Wlodkowski, Port
Year & Major: Freshman, Radiation Therapy
Hometown: Southgate, Michigan
High School: Thomas J. Anderson High School
Height & Weight: 6’1” 172 lbs

New Years Eve morning in Sarasota turned out to be a beautiful one. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the wind was blowing slightly. Our full breakfast, provided by our gracious hosts at the hotel, was delicious once again. By 8:30 am, we were out in our fours and practicing.

Today we focused on rotating around the pin of the oar lock without lunging towards the stern and timing the seat with the bottom edge of the blade. Alternating between pairs, as well as inside and outside hands, we spent a good hour and a half on the water. Coach Bancheri noticed that I was not sitting up as tall as I should have been and informed me, I adjusted and felt a much more firm connection at the catch. Just before we turned around our coxies saw Minnie the Moocher, the local dolphin that makes a habit of begging for food from boaters.

Towards the end of practice the winds started to pick up; good thing though, it exposed us to foreign conditions. Surprisingly there was very little boat traffic compared to yesterday. Accompanying Coach Bancheri today was Alex Vander Ark, who filmed the practice. Currently we are driving to Miami Beach for our afternoon practice as well as our Miami Beach Ball Bowl.

Photo of the Intercoastal waterway where the men are rowing during winter training

Day Three

By: Marco Benedetti
Year & Major: Junior, Statistics
Hometown: Upper Arrlington
High School: Upper Arrlington High School
Height & Weight: 6’3”, 175lbs

Today was busy, but very fun! The Gulf of Mexico was a completely unique experience. Before the race, we had a lot of fun rowing back and forth and seeing all the people on the beach. There were a couple of nice pedestrians that waved to us and talked to coach for a while, and there was a guy who was dressed like Rambo observing us from the far end of the beach. All the way on the opposite shore, we got to row by Stephen King’s House, which was awesome. We concluded with the actual race, which my crew completed in the lowest number of strokes. When we came in, our bow seat, Jimmy Wilke, miss judged the depth of the water, and accidentally took a dive from the boat into the Gulf! Once we were done, we gathered our stuff and made our way back to the cove where we launched our boats.

Grand Valley Rowing Varsity Men’s team rowing in the Gulf of Mexico.

After a quick lunch at Subway, we returned for our second practice, this time in eights. We were joined by Coach Joe Dobson who video taped us rowing by sixes, outside and inside hand only, then with both hands. Coach Dobson graduated from Marietta College, coached for the US Naval Academy Lightweights, and is now coaching at the Sarasota County Rowing Club. It was a nice long row that ended in a long battle paddle between the two eights. It was great having Coach Dobson with us to offer his insight and help us with the taping. The row gave us a lot of new technical insight as well as lot of meters. Like always, we returned to the cove, walked up the clammy beach, rinsed the boats off, stretched, and returned to the hotel.

From there, we went to Lifestyle Fitness to get our weights in. There were very accommodating to us and gave us full use of their weights. From there, we went to Duke and Lori Vander Ark’s home for dinner. Their daughter, Alex, is a recent graduate of Grand Valley and was a four year rower. Her parents have been extremely supportive of Grand Valley Rowing over the years and were very generous in letting us into their home for a fantastic meal! Tomorrow we travel to Miami to get yet another Bowl Race in, and then to South Beach to ring in the New Year!

Pictured are the winners (Jimmy Wilkie/Wyandotte, MI; Robbie DeWeerd/Holland, MI; Zak Armstrong/Kalamazoo, MI; Marco Benedetti/Upper Arlington, OH) who rowed the 250 meter course in 11 strokes. 2nd thru fourth rowed the 250 meters in 13(4+), 15(4+) and 15 strokes(4-).

Day Three

By: Laura Kivell, coxswain
Year & Major: Junior, Psychology
Hometown: Ada
High School: Forest Hills Central
Height & Weight: 5’3”, 115lbs

Today we woke up bright and early for another long row on the Intercostals waterway. After getting on the water we turned north this time, opposite of the stretch we did yesterday. The row was full of technical work, and there were major improvements made over the course of the day’s first practice.

After rowing for about a half hour, we turned and made our way down Moonlight Pass, which used to connect to the Gulf of Mexico. After beaching the boats and hopping out, the rowers carried the shells over the stretch of land that divided us from open water. We placed the boats in the Gulf of Mexico and (After a few spills!) began rowing. After getting comfortable with the winds and wave patterns (and having a bit of fun) we raced. The Gulf of Mexico Bowl, which was a 250-meter Pps race, with the winner having to take only 11 strokes over 250 meters! The results are as follows:

First place: 11 strokes
Boat: “The Penny”
(Stroke) Marco Benedetti, Robbie Deweerd, Zak Armstrong, James Wilkie (Bow)

Second place: 13 Strokes
Boat: “The Doug Urey”
(Stroke) Chad Condon, Jake Bouwman, Andrew Zwierzinski, Tyler Sellmer (Bow), Laura Kivell (Cox)

Third Place: 15 strokes
Boat: “The Coach Jack Anderson”
(Stroke) Tucker Anderson, Keegan Jahnke, Adam Wlodkowski, Tom Sawiki (Bow), Tamara Hillman (Cox)

Fourth place: 16 strokes
Boat: “The Richard Laurance”
(Stroke) Justin Wegner, Costos Ciungan, Marty Reed, Brendan Sawyer (Bow)

The races were an exciting and unique experience, and rowing on the Gulf of Mexico was absolutely breathtaking. If this is just the second day of training, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the trip!

Varsity Men carrying a four over the Midnight Pass to the Gulf of Mexico

Day Two

By: Jimmy Wilkie, Bow Seat
Year and Major: Junior, Health Communications
Hometown: Whitmore Lake, Michigan
High school: Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Height and Weight: 5’10”, 160lbs

We departed yesterday for our long trip to Florida. Most of the rowers chose to go on the day long drive from Michigan, and the rest chose to fly. We pulled into the Sarasota Scullers boat house around 8 o’clock AM and unloaded our boats and went back to the hotel for a much needed nap. We are in a pretty nice resort which is really close to the restaurants and other attractions near Sarasota.

After some rest, we went to where our boats were, and walked down to where we had to wet launch our boats and we came upon a pleasant looking cove that was covered by trees. The refreshing water and great environment gave the urge to do a cove dive right in the water, even in the cool temperature. The December chilled water made the wet launch a little uncomfortable but was not all too bad. We had to walk on clams and broken clam shells, and this was the only real inconvenience of our new rowing facility.

As soon as we made it into the boat the familiar feel of the rowing shell took over and we had a great first practice. We put in some good miles and have some good practices ahead of us. This rowing trip will be filled with small boat and big boat training which is always fun because it keeps us competitive with one another and this will hopefully pay off in the spring season. This Florida trip will be a great replacement from the cold Michigan weather.

Day Two

By: Tamara Hillman, coxswain
Year & Major: Senior, Biology
Hometown: Gregory, Michigan
High School: Stockbridge High School
Height & Weight: 5’8″, 123lbs

We arrived in Florida today around seven in the morning and first went to unload the boats. After getting everything situated at the site where we’re rowing, we went to Bentley’s Resort and Hotel just a mile down the road where we’re staying. It’s great to be so close to the place we’re rowing and conveniently right down the street from everything we need.

While waiting for the rest of the men’s team members to arrive from their flights, the other coxswain, Laura, and I took a trip to super Walmart to buy lunch food for the week and boat supplies. We filled two carts with the essentials (bread, peanut butter, jelly, lunch meat, fruit, Gatorade and hotdogs) along with buckets, towels, cleaner, and first aid supplies for those epic blisters, then headed back to the hotel and ate lunch.

Once all the men’s team was reunited we went for our first row. The water was quite cold, but not nearly as bad as the quarry on a snowy day. Soon we were rowing into blue waters with palm trees flanking us on either side. It was early evening and as we turned around to row back the sun was beginning to set. We could see straight out into the ocean with the orange sun lighting up the water, making this one of the most beautiful venues I have experienced.

The row back was a bit more fast paced then the technical row up. We worked on power with low rate and pushed to get back just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. We cleaned up the boats and put them away for the night. Now we have a great week to look forward to with more practices on beautiful water, and trips all over to Miami and Key West for New Years!

Day One
The Preparation Blog

By: Tyler Sellmer
Logistics Coordinator- Starboard
Year & Major: Junior- Accounting & Finance
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Operation Polar Evacuation

Today the team piled into the vehicles that will take them down to sunny Sarasota Florida. After a restful Semester break and in the middle of the harsh indoor rowing season we are all looking forward to the fact that we will get to break it up with some water time in Florida.
For me, a trip like this means a lot more than simply packing enough cloths to row in Florida for a week. For me, packing for these trips takes on a much grander scale. As the logistics coordinator, I am responsible for making sure the launches, shells, truck, and trailer, along with all the tools and trinkets needed for a team to practice make it to the right place. This is a lot more interesting and a lot more time consuming than simply packing a duffle bag full of clothes.
The process starts months before when we decide where we are going, who is going there, and most importantly, how we are going to make it happen. It is my custom that for each of these trips I give it a name, in the case of the current transit down to our winter training camp, I choose the name “Operation Polar Evacuation.” It is probably very obvious that my dry and military based humor is at work here.
The biggest problem going anywhere as a team is getting the truck and trailer where it needs to be. Right before I wrote this blog, and right after the name that is next on my “to do” list, I will be at the rowing trailer making sure everything is ready to go. The trailer was pre-positioned earlier in the month when I came home (I hail from Georgia) for Christmas.
It is through minor details like this that we make these trips possible. The entire team comes together to make the logistics of this club program a workable reality. As a result, we are able to have what we need, where we need it, when we need it. This bog probably seemed really scrambled, mostly because my brain is occupied by mental checklists that I am checking again and again: Is everything strapped?” “Do we have gas?” “Do we have tools?” a shortage of answers to these questions is what I have nightmares about. But I must leave my computer now and tend to other affairs-of-crew.
Until Next time.

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