Walking on Water: The Unique Role of Walk-Ons on Men’s Rowing

Every morning on the campus of Marist College the row team competes with the rising sun to see who can touch the Hudson River first. As they glide across the water in their scull, it appears that all the members of the team have been rowing for years. However, for the Marist College Row Team this could not be further from the truth. Instead, the team and its culture are defined by a mix of newcomers to the sport and structure provided by seasoned veterans.

Unlike a majority of collegiate sports at Marist the Men’s Crew team is littered with walk-ons. This attitude comes from the top of the program down, with Head Coach Campbell Woods beginning his own rowing career as a walk-on at Hobart College. Not only do they fill out the roster, but they are expected to make an impact on the team. For senior Matt Blaszczyk this seemed like the perfect opportunity to continue his athletic career after high school, “What was so alluring to me was that it is the ultimate team sport, would get me in great shape and the fact that it was not a club-sport but a Varsity Division I sport on campus,” said Blaszczyk. However, before the walk-ons can make an impact on water they are put through rigorous workouts and tests on land to make sure they are prepared.

Training begins on the rowing machine where the newcomers are greeted with high intensity workouts designed to work them into the shape needed to even think of participating in a sport known for its grueling hours. At the same time, the rowing machine is beginning to teach pivotal parts of the rowing motion that are unique to the sport. As he began, Matt described his surprise about the importance of the technical aspect of towing, “At first I thought you put the par in the water and pulled as hard as you can. I quickly learned that this was simply not the case and that every part of the stroke, from the drive to the catch, are calculated movements that require immense focus to ensure they are performed correctly and in unison with every other member of the boat,” emphasized Blaszczyk.

After the row machine is mastered, the training done on shore is far from over. Before they can enter a boat on the water, they experience rowing in an indoor tank. Senior rower, Dmitrey Guenther, explained how important starting in an indoor tank is for someone just beginning their rowing career, “The tanks are beneficial because it offers the feel of the water but you’re doing it on a stable platform.” This helps walk-ons develop a feel for the strokes and rhythm needed once in the water. The rhythm in particular is vital, as the narrow boats are only two feet wide and when the team isn’t in sync, the boats are liable to tip over and spill the entire team into the Hudson River.

Once the walk-ons are deemed ready for the water they are mixed in with the recruited athletes to help ease the transition to the water. The practice is plentiful as rowing never has a true “off-season” and workouts happen every morning, six days a week. This grueling schedule may be considered a turnoff for some, but the Marist Men’s Crew team has embraced it. As a result, the team is extremely close and supportive, especially when new faces show up in the fall. “We all encourage each other and try to help each other get better, we were all at a point when we were just learning so we are very understanding,” said Blaszczyk.

The tight-knit culture of the team has allowed for walk-on’s to not only contribute but to dominate and break records. In fact, the top two times for the 6k are held by walk-on’s and four walk-ons are in the top 10 all-time at Marist on the 2k record board.

So, while walk-on’s may be considered a luxury to other sports, those on the Marist Men’s Crew are the lifeline of the program.

Edited By: Rebecca Rose

Photo Provided by: Marist Athletics

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