Brewster Crew Provides Transformative Team Experience

Brewster Crew Provides Transformative Team Experience
Kara McDuffee

Before coming to Brewster, Wolfeboro native Jenny Baldwin ’25 had no idea what rowing was, despite growing up minutes away from Lake Winnipesaukee. She had many years of athletics under her belt, but it wasn’t until she tried out for Brewster’s crew team as a way to stay in shape during her freshman spring that she first attempted rowing. As one would expect with trying a completely new sport, the season provided her plenty of challenges. 

“The first time I was out on the water, I was so nervous,” Jenny said. “Crew requires a ton of focus.” But surrounded by other novices, encouraging coaches, and supportive teammates, she pushed through her nerves and quickly hit her stride. “Later that week, it just felt like I was at home,” she reflected. “When I’m on the water, I feel like everything leaves my head. It’s just me, the boat, the people in the boat, and the oars.”

By the end of the season, the experience wasn’t just enjoyable: It shaped her aspirations for the future. Jenny is beginning to explore the possibility of rowing in college, and she has set her sights on pursuing crew at the next level.

Her discovery might sound rare, but if you were to wander down to Brewster’s Pinckney Boathouse, you might be surprised by how many of her teammates share similar stories. Very few schools offer rowing programs at all, since water access isn’t that common. Additionally, it’s a sport that anyone can join, regardless of experience level. This unique combination sets up a perfect opportunity for many to try the sport for the first time while at Brewster. 

Some students find themselves at the boathouse because they want to be on a team or fulfill their interscholastic requirement. Others get talked into it by friends or roommates. And some merely want to be active, whether that’s to help them in their primary sport or for other pursuits. This was the case for Axel Keller ’22, who tried rowing for the first time in his senior spring to prepare himself for attending the Air Force Academy in the fall, and Libby Harris ’22, who wanted to prepare for college basketball.

“It was definitely humbling coming in and rowing for the first time as a senior,” Libby said, after explaining that she first learned about crew while watching her older brother row at a regatta for Brewster. “But it was really awesome to be learning with new rowers who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. And honestly, this has been one of the greatest highlights during my time at Brewster.”

This camaraderie amongst crew teammates quickly becomes apparent when you see rowers of all ages hanging out together long after their scheduled workouts. Many of them credit their team bond to how inclusive the learning environment is, and has to be, in a sport like crew. There are just as many experienced rowers as there are novices––and the success of each boat relies on everyone equally, making peer-to-peer mentorship crucial.

Liam Carey ’23, who came to Brewster as a junior with multiple years of rowing experience, knows this all too well. “As a captain, one of my duties is to teach new kids and to row with them,” he explains. “It’s not just, ‘Here, I taught you how to row, and now I'm seeing you do it.’ We’re doing it together and we’re on the same level. I think that’s super rewarding.”

Archer McClain ’23, another captain on the team, has seen both ends of the learning spectrum in his three years of rowing at Brewster. He came in as a novice his freshman year, and just two years later, found himself as an elected leader of the team. 

“I had some really great captains when I was starting out, and they were really good role models in terms of becoming a captain,” Archer reflected. “I often feel that I channel them when I’m down on the docks trying to make sure everything’s going right.”

While captains can provide models for newer rowers, leadership isn’t reserved for a small group of individuals. 

“I think it’s really cool, because everyone can learn from one another,” said Kayla Holz ’23, a captain for the girls’ side. “Even though it’s freshmen through seniors, everyone will listen to each other and take advice. You can all learn from each other.”

Communication is crucial when rowing together, and the feedback on the water is immediate. The boat’s speed is dependent on its rowers being in sync and disciplined with their strokes, while also adapting to the conditions of the water. 

Lila Glanville ’22 explains this aspect, “When you're all together in a boat and you're catching together, you feel it. The boat physically moves faster.” 

She also adds how this helped develop her mental stamina when rowing: “You think, I’ve got to keep doing this because it's not just me. It's more than me. And we're all in this together.”

Mental stamina is just one of many life-long skills that rowing instills. When asked what crew has taught them, Brewster rowers cited problem-solving, communication, teamwork, discipline, goal-setting, and work ethic as some of the many lessons they took away from the sport.

Brewster’s Head Coach Katy Varga-Wells, who has more than a decade of coaching experience, still credits her professional success to her time rowing.

“I definitely feel like out of all all the sports I've been a part of, rowing is the sport that changed me the most,” she explained. “It helped me with interviews for jobs, it helped me learn how to grind in my profession, and it really taught me how to be the best teammate I could be.”

It’s not surprising, then, that these skills and team-building are her primary focuses for Brewster’s crew team. “I would hope that even after a season of rowing at Brewster, the kids can start to feel those skills and apply them to outside of campus life,” she said.

Coach Varga-Wells took over Brewster’s crew program in 2021 and has already coached the team to impressive achievements in the fall and spring seasons. The roster has grown tremendously, and she plans to continue to build the program in the years to come. 

Brewster is set up well for this growth. Not only does our school offer crew in the fall and spring, it also has a variety of boats, a small fleet of ergs (short for “ergometers,” which are individual rowing machines), and an indoor rowing tank––a rarity for many prep school programs. And of course, there is Brewster’s primary resource: the beautiful and challenging Lake Winnipesaukee in its backyard.

Furthermore, thanks to the incredible generosity of Friends of Crew donations, the Brewster fleet will be expanding this year with the addition of two new Vespoli boats (a pair and a double), nine new Concept 2 rowing ergs, and two new CoxBoxes with GPS, along with a slew of other equipment and uniform upgrades. The school plans to celebrate the generosity of these individuals, and the amazing impact it will have on Brewster rowers, this fall.

And if the new equipment isn’t exciting enough, Coach Varga-Wells also has more in store for her athletes. This year, spring rowers will have the opportunity to attend a spring training trip in Austin, Texas to prepare for their season. She’s also got a lineup of rowing alumni and elite coaches who plan to connect with the team and share their experiences. One of these alumni includes Chris Carlson ’15, a Bedford, N.H. native, who first started rowing at Brewster and has since competed in two Rowing World Cups, winning a bronze medal at the most recent one in Poznan.

With unbelievable potential, we can’t wait to see how this program––and its athletes––develops in the seasons to come!


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