W&M Club Rowing – Return to the Water in 2021

Dear Friends and Alumni of W&M Club Rowing,

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far reaching consequences for many, including Club Rowing at William & Mary. As our fall racing season comes into view, we wanted to reflect on the last year-and-a-half since we have been able to row on the water together as one team.

Going into the spring of 2020, the Club boasted over fifty members across four squads- the Varsity Women, the Novice Women, the Varsity Men and Novice Men. After what was a fast-paced and successful fall season and with plans to continue that momentum on the water as soon as possible, the Club traveled to Gainesville, Florida, in March 2020 to train over spring break. After a week of rowing on Newmans Lake practicing and refining technique, Club members learned that William & Mary would be closing for at least several weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective immediately upon their return to Williamsburg. Many Club members continued to train at home, looking to return to competition when possible. It was soon announced, however, that campus would remain closed and that classes would be held virtually for the latter half of the semester.

There was uncertainty going into the fall of 2020 surrounding whether Club Rowing would be able to return to practicing on the Chickahominy River in-person due to social distancing procedures instituted at William & Mary for the semester. After it was decided that we would have to practice on campus at the Student Recreation Center, Head Coach and Program Director, Erich Shuler developed socially distanced and masked training plans to still bring all four squads together. The move to a totally indoor rowing season was supported by the generous donation of twenty new Concept 2 ergometer rowing machines that we could space out in the SRC’s MAC court for practices. These types of machines make up the core of the Club’s off-water training regimen and combine aerobic threshold workouts with functional rowing technique. These practices were further complemented by weightlifting and cross-training circuits. The continued dedication of Club members in the face of setbacks was a testament to the strength of the Club and inspired several new members to join, even in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.

Rowing is, by its nature, a cost-intensive sport. Crew boats, known as racing shells, are typically made of carbon fiber and cost upwards of twenty-thousand dollars each to purchase. Wakeless safety launches, utilized by coaches while crews are on the water, must be stored and maintained appropriately. The Tack Family Boathouse, used to store the Club’s racing shells, is also maintained. As the Club remained off the water for a longer period of time, the financial stability of the Club came under duress. To retain members while not competing on the water, membership dues had to be cut in half, reducing Club revenue considerably. Limited external funding added to the pressure on the Club. While Club Rowing typically operates with four coaches, one for each squad, Erich Shuler became the sole coach responsible for all squads beginning in the fall of 2020 and accepted a substantial pay cut in order to make Club Rowing financially viable.

This state of affairs continued into the spring of 2021, where again the Club held practices at the SRC on William & Mary’s campus, rather than the Tack Family Boathouse on the Chickahominy River due to social distancing constraints. Members focused on building camaraderie and skills by holding mock races against each other using the ergometer machines, connected by sliders to imitate the motion of a racing shell.

Despite the challenges that William & Mary Club Rowing has endured in recent times, we are overly excited that we will be returning to rowing on the water this fall and the emotion is tangible. Preparations are being made to ensure that the transition back is done in the safest way possible to protect Club members as well as those who we may come into contact with at Chickahominy Riverfront Park. Club Rowing is looking to incorporate all of the skills gained in the past year-and-a-half to build on the pre-COVID racing successes of our four squads when we return to competition. Our long term goal remains to become a consistently high-ranked, college rowing club. In support of that, our short-term objectives are to focus on recruitment efforts this fall to grow our pool of talented students while rebuilding a strong financial foundation to support that expansion.

We are asking that you consider supporting William & Mary Club Rowing financially as we enter this exciting transitional period for the Club. Our goal for this fundraising campaign is to raise $25,000, to be spread over three components of our financial strategy, including the growth of the coaching staff to a typical volume that logistically supports four squads practicing on the water, the preparation of racing shells for their first competitions in almost two years, and the continued building of capital reserves to withstand further uncertainties. Thank you for your support as Club Rowing enters this new season and be sure to follow our website to see our progress throughout the season!

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