Vashon Island Rowing Club’s Ben Steele took a weekend off from coaching VIRC’s juniors and masters rowers to once again climb into the stroke seat and compete at the Masters National Championship on Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, Aug. 17 to 19. Rowing in two composite boats for Vashon, Steele took a silver and a bronze, while capping off the weekend with another silver in an eight made up entirely of rowing coaches.
“Coaches’ eights are a lot of fun,” said Steele. “We all have a good understanding of how to row smoothly and hit key parts of the stroke together, even if the level of fitness varies greatly. Our coxswain did a great job of organizing a group that had never rowed together, and he knew exactly what to fix.”
With former U.S. Olympic coxswain Rod Warner calling out the commands, Steele’s eight, featuring coaches from Pocock, Station L, Chicago, San Diego and Marin, found itself four seats down to Bear Island with only 150 meters to go.
“Rod was exuberant when he said ‘heels down!’ and I pushed the rate,” said Steele. “We all powered up and dropped our split by 10 seconds over two strokes, rowing right through Bear Island.”
Steele’s other two medal-winning races were adventures in their own right, with equipment factoring into one race and a last-minute substitution needed in the other.
“My double was a composite with Ted Leslie from Pocock,” explained Steele. “Our boat had a rigging issue so we had to borrow a boat last minute with its steering locked slightly to one side.” Racing down the course with a 12 mph crosswind pushing in the same direction, Steele’s double was hard to starboard through the entire race and yet still managed a bronze medal.
Rounding out the weekend was Steele’s silver medal race in the composite quad. At the last minute, the crew had to sub in a novice from Lake Merritt and essentially race a boat that had never practiced together, finishing second, just a boat length off the pace.
Steele said that getting in a boat again at Nationals will serve his coaching well during the upcoming fall head race season on Vashon. “Racing always brings my drive for competition and sportsmanship into view,” he said. “I hope to use that to lead by example this season.”
— Jeff Hoyt is a member of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.