Row, row, row your boat: a deep dive into Madison Crew

Zara Javeri & Alexandra Wong, Staff Writers

When the bell rings at 2:55 marking the end of the school day for most students, the day is far from over for those on Madison’s crew team. Following seven hours of school work, the athletes pile into a charter bus and head down to the docks of Sandy Run Regional Park near the Occoquan Reservoir in Fairfax Station.

An often overlooked sport, crew is arguably the most physically demanding of all at Madison. The season starts off in mid-November with winter conditioning, three months of endless training and erging—training on a rowing machine—in preparation for competitions, perhaps the most important time of the season. Rounding the end of February, the team moves on to practices at the Occoquan River, getting on-the-water rowing experience. At the beginning of the spring sports season, athletes and coaches work on finding the best fit positions on the boat for each rower depending on their varying strengths and weaknesses. These include the stroke seat, bow seat, engine and coxswain. Leading every boat is the coxswain, who plays a crucial role as they are responsible for steering and determining the strength of rowing. Each seat has a specific role on the boat and in order for the team to be successful, all must work together in perfect unison.

After carrying the boats down to the water, warm-ups begin, one of which is the pick-and-pause drill. Pick drills require rowers to work through each part of the stroke. This can help rowers focus on recovery and body preparation. Pause drills help rowers better develop their strokes in isolation, while also helping the entire boat find their rhythm all together. This is just one of many drills that are done before the team continues with practice.

Madison rowers are required to train six days a week for over two hours a day, usually getting home around 7 pm with little time left to complete homework. The heavy time commitment, like with most other athletics at Madison, can be a big struggle for students. “Crew is a lot about discipline, and there is a lot of physical exertion involved,” Aryana Bajaj (’25), a Varsity rower on the Madison crew team, said. “You really just need to be dedicated and have the motivation to row.”

Each weekend, the team’s hard work pays off when Madison competes in races known as regattas. Throughout the day-long regattas, Madison rowers race 1,500 meters against six other schools from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., all of whom are competing to make the fastest time. Additionally, varsity boats often have qualifying races that determine if they will advance and race later in the day.

“The most memorable thing about the regattas is the adrenaline you feel as you line up next to the other boats,” Varsity rower Ronin Nguyen (’25) said.

The team is working hard to uphold the Madison legacy, following the crew team’s most recent achievements of the Women’s Junior 8 winning the title of state champions in 2021, the Men’s Freshman 8 winning states in 2022 and the Men’s Freshman 8 earning fourth place in national championships the same year. Looking forward into the 2023 season, the team hopes to win states against McLean and Wakefield, Madison’s biggest crew rivals. Additionally, team members aim to improve their individual 2K times, something incredibly important for those with hopes of being scouted by colleges in the future. Hopes for this season also include helping the Novice freshmen on the team, in terms of both rowing and team bonding.

Community is one of the most important aspects of the crew experience and of the season. According to many members of the team, the best part about crew is the people. The team is constantly bonding and team dinners are always held Friday night before regattas. Because of the time commitment, the Madison crew team is together for over 20 hours each week, sharing countless bus rides and meals.

“You have a lot of time during the commute to do work, so it’s not as bad as you would think it was,” Bajaj said. “Plus, you make up for it with the bonds that you create and the memories you make on the team.”

The crew season closes out each year with the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, one of the oldest and largest high school rowing competitions in the United States. During the overnight trip, the whole team rides on the crew bus and Madison competes against all of the boats on the East Coast. It’s one of the most memorable experiences of the crew season.

While often unnoticed by the rest of the school, Madison’s crew team is certainly not lacking in wins.  Members are constantly putting in the work to be the best, making amazing memories along the way. This wouldn’t be possible without the exceptionally strong sense of community present within the team.

At sunset, Madison rowers (foreground) vie for first, racing right next to a rival group.