Five Vashon junior rowers recently received scholarships from the George Pocock Rowing Foundation last week, the awards made through the Vashon Island Rowing Club the same week that head coach Ben Steele hired two former Vashon rowers just back from college rowing careers.
Steele also announced the opening of VIRC’s new indoor training center, located in the former Granny’s Attic complex at Sunrise Ridge, with plans to open the facility to athletes in other sports.
The foundation named for George Pocock, best known as the boat builder for the famed “Boys in the Boat,” seeks to open rowing to as many young athletes as possible, regardless of their economic situation. The foundation awards scholarships through six rowing clubs, including VIRC, and to individual junior rowers.
Steele said the Pocock scholarships nearly triple VIRC’s ability to meet the financial needs of interested rowers.
“This club is an extension of my family,” he said, “and I want to welcome any and all interested in rowing to join that family. The Pocock Foundation and VIRC’s scholarship program are part of expanding our family. No one who wants to row should be turned away for lack of funds.”
Vashon High School 2014 graduates Maya Krah and Taegen Lynch, just back from scholarship rowing careers at University of San Diego and University of Miami respectively, started new jobs with VIRC last week. Krah will coach the masters. Lynch will focus on the novice juniors.
Both rowed for VIRC in high school. Steele will coach both depending on his schedule. (He is also a Vashon Island Fire & Rescue EMT and firefighter).
In addition to their rowing experience at the national level, VIRC’s coaching trio brings to bear academic and professional experience keeping the human body healthy. Krah earned a bachelor’s in anthropology with a focus on osteology, the study of human bones, and evolutionary biology. If someone gets hurt, Steele has an EMT kit in his car. Lynch, who majored in exercise physiology and was team captain and three-time all-Atlantic Coast Conference academic rowing team honoree, just began training to become a medical assistant – aiming to become a physician’s assistant, possibly in orthopedics.
“Just being around such vibrant and successful adults inspires me,” Krah said last week of coaching masters. A veteran instructor of adults new to rowing, she added, “Coaching them is an honor and lets me look forward to early mornings on the water. My goal is to create an environment where every athlete can grow and thrive.”
Lynch also is pleased to be in her new position.
‘I’m very excited to be back at the club where I learned to row,” she said. “I’m proud to help represent VIRC and what it stands for. I look forward to teaching young athletes about the sport and providing them with the skills to grow and succeed as athletes and in their everyday lives.”
“Both Maya and Taegen left their Vashon families to go row in college,” Steele said, “and now they’re back with their love of rowing and their love for this community.”
VIRC’s indoor training center developed from Steele’s vision for an accessible facility to develop well-rounded and healthy athletes. Equipped with rowing machines and weightlifting equipment, the facility can help athletes of all ages develop cardio-vascular capacity, improve core strength and posture, and develop muscle power. Steele said he is networking with island coaches of other sports to introduce them to the facility.
A Seattle native, Steele rowed for Green Lake Crew while attending Ballard High School, then for Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He was assistant coach for the women’s team at Grand Valley State and assisted with adult learn-to-row classes at Green Lake.
Masters rower Mary Frances Lyons, who co-led the search process that led to hiring Steele, said character was decisive.
“Ben’s years of training and work as an EMT and firefighter speak to his commitment to being of service. That service orientation comes through in how he sees his job. It’s not just about winning medals and scholarships: It’s about juniors developing as complete people, helping masters achieve their diverse goals while staying healthy, and all of them having fun,” Lyons said.
“I love rowing and I love winning,” Steele said, “but my passion for coaching comes from the impact on my heart as I watch a member of our rowing family grow. Not every junior rower is going to row in college and beyond, but every single one of them is going to become an adult. My goal is to make every rower the best rower they can be, and prepare them to be the best version of themselves as adults.”
— Mark Nassutti is a masters member of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.