The St. John's crew team practices on the Maumee River as the sun sets behind downtown Toledo.
These athletes don t simply row, row, row themselves gently down a stream.
More than 250 local high school athletes are set to participate in the unique and physically demanding sport of crew this spring. The rowing season kicked off this week with practices on the Maumee River near International Park.
The object of crew is not to torture, said St. John s crew coach Rod McElroy. But it is one side of it. That s the noble side.
You have to be in good shape all over, said Mark Heller, coach of a local crew organization. It s essentially like running and lifting weights at the same time.
So perhaps the next line in the children s song, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream, also does not apply to crew.
But a number of young athletes still elect to participate in the sport of rowing, which is formally known as crew and has both spring and fall seasons. The majority of high school rowers in northwest Ohio are female.
In the spring, rowers compete in regattas that feature 1,500 or 2,000-meter sprint races. The boats have either four or eight-man crews along with a coxswain, who sits in the stern and steers the boat with verbal commands.
At a spring regatta, six boats line up side-by-side in lanes and sprint to the finish. There are lightweight and heavyweight divisions as well as experienced and novice classifications.
Only a handful of area schools offer crew as a sport, including St. John s, Central Catholic, Notre Dame, St. Ursula, and Anthony Wayne. The newest addition is St. Francis de Sales, which will field a rowing team for the first time this spring.
There is an option for student-athletes who are interested in crew but do not attend a school that offers the sport. The Toledo Metropolitan Rowing Club was established three years ago to provide an outlet.
The formation of the first sponsored crew teams at St. Francis and Anthony Wayne grew directly out of the schools involvement in the Toledo Metropolitan Rowing Club.
McElroy said the TMRC is an affiliate of the Toledo Rowing Club, a local organization located on Main Street in East Toledo.
Heller, who is in his second year coaching the TMRC boys team, said the organization has about 50 participants. He said the TMRC has a few more female rowers than males.
Trying to get their timing down in one of the St. John s shells earlier this week were, from front to back, Nick Moriarty, John Bureau, Paul D Onofrio, Anna Muller (a Notre Dame student filling in), Tom Keller, Alex Weinandy (obscured), Kam Frech, Steve Gee and Jamey Toland.
It gives kids that are at a school that has no team a chance to row, Heller said.
Athletes from 11 high schools have competed for the TMRC, including Northview, Southview, Perrysburg, Genoa, Springfield, Ottawa Hills, Bowsher, St. Francis, Maumee Valley Country Day School, Lake, Maumee, Rogers and the Toledo School of the Arts.
All of the high school rowers are members of the TRC and keep their equipment, including racing shells and oars, at the club s boathouse in International Park.
McElroy said boats from both the TMRC and the other schools practice along the same stretch of the Maumee nearly every day after school beginning in late March or early April.
We don t necessarily train together, McElroy said. But when we compete in regattas, we re knocking heads. We are on the river at the same time because we get down there and practice in the afternoon. There will be boats there from about 3 p.m. until it gets dark.
Heller said competing against teams such as St. John s, which has an established tradition in rowing, helps his TMRC crews.
The best thing about it is because there are so many strong teams, we help each other out, Heller said. If you compete against excellent teams, then that raises the level of your play.
Heller also said crew is a team sport in every sense of the word because it requires consistency and chemistry.
There are no stars, he said. To have the fastest boat, everyone has to be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. [The oars] have to be in and out of water within a nanosecond. The boat is like a caterpillar with legs.
In fact, lower body strength is more important than upper body strength in rowing.
People aren t aware that it is 85 percent legs, Heller said. You re constantly pushing yourself backwards. And then there is the arm part of it. It s an incredible, aerobic sport.
These kids all have to have the same insane passion.
Contact Mark Monroe at:email@example.com 419-724-6110.