‘The Ultimate Team Sport’

JMU Student-Run Club Hosting Regatta Today

Posted: March 29, 2014

Members of the James Madison University crew team row on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River near the town of Shenandoah on Thursday morning. (Photos by Nikki Fox)
LEFT TO RIGHT: James Madison University crew team members sophomore Michelle Neitzey, 20, of Haymarket, sophomore Alison Huffman, 19, of Sterling, freshman Sarah Hynes, 18, of Wilton, Conn., and freshman Samantha Flohr, 18, of Annapolis, Md., take their boat out of the South Fork after practice Thursday.
Members of JMU’s crew team, a student-run sports club at the university, practices Thursday morning near the town of Shenandoah. The club is hosting a mock regatta at 11 a.m. Saturday on Morrison Road on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah. The public is invited to the free event.
JMU Crew Team President Cari Rand (left), a 20-year-old junior from Denver, helps out a boat while approaching the dock near the end of practice Thursday morning in the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

HARRISONBURG — “When you start rowing you can’t stop.”

With those words, Sarah Opatz described her love for the sport she’s competed in since high school.

Opatz, 20, a junior from Northern Virginia, is one of 21 women in the James Madison University Crew Club; there are 13 men in the club.

Opatz fell in love with the sport after her friends pressured her into competing during her senior year in high school. When she came to JMU, she fell in love with the team.

The JMU Crew Club is completely student-run. Even the coach, junior Cari Rand, is a student.

“The team has always had a student coach,” Opatz said, noting the club’s first year was 2007.

The club competes at regattas every spring and fall. It is hosting a mock regatta today at 11 a.m. on Morrison Road on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah. The public is invited to the free event.

There will be food and a 50/50 raffle, Opatz said.

She calls rowing “the ultimate team sport. You can’t take breaks. You have to have very good team chemistry to have a good season.”

Opatz enjoys the team unity created during the season.

“You can go from being complete strangers to being like family.”

Dave McVicar, 20, another junior from Northern Virginia, enjoys getting out in the early morning hours, especially in the fall. The club practices from 6:15 to 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday during the two-month-long spring and fall seasons.

“It’s therapeutic,” he said. “You get to watch the sun rise. The events are crazy fun.”

There are four rowing competitions scheduled for spring. In addition to today’s intrasquad event, the club will travel to Fairfax, Richmond and Mercer Lake, N.J. The spring races are 2 kilometers while the fall events are 5K. Spring races are typically run in lanes marked by buoys while the fall races are open.

In the fall, the club will travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., for the Head of the Hooch Regatta, the second-largest regatta in the U.S. That event features some 50 teams and more than 2,000 boats.

Some events are relatively small, however, with as few as five teams. The JMU Crew’s main competition is VCU, William & Mary, Virginia Tech and George Mason.

Although she was a rower that last two years, Opatz is now a coxswain, the team member who directs the four- or eight-person crew. She learned how to do it last summer while training with recreational masters team, which includes those 21 and older.

As a coxswain, one of her goals this year is to get thrown overboard. That’s a sport tradition when the crew wins first place.

Although the team is young and usually has less funding and more novice rowers than their main competitors, they have had some success. The JMU varsity women’s team won the bronze medal at last year’s Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta at Oakridge, Tenn.

Individual dues are $250 per semester and the crew has fundraisers. Club members will do manual labor for $8.25 an hour to help raise funds.

The crew also accepts donations, which can be made online at jmucrew.com.

Most of their equipment is third-, fourth- or fifth-hand, McVicar said. Opatz notes that a new boat costs $65,000. “We were able to get one for $1,000” last year, she said.

Although they have to raise their own funds and the early morning practices can be taxing, Opatz plans on staying with the sport.

“You can row your entire life,” she said, noting that the average age of the recreational masters team members she practiced with is around 55.

Contact Caleb M. Soptelean at 574-6293 or csoptelean@dnronline.com

NDN Video News