By Rob LeDonne
On most days amid the picture-perfect conditions of Mission Bay, you’ll find a bunch of rowers between 13 and 80 who are all part of the nationally-known San Diego Rowing Club, an organization that seeks to impart the wisdom, art and craft of being a world class rower. In continuous operation since 1888, the club is now headed in part by Chris Callaghan, the Director of Rowing and Junior Head Coach who has a passion for the sport.
“Teaching kids is tons of fun,” he explains from the rowing club’s headquarters. “You get to watch people grow and develop, see boys form into men, and have a positive influence on lives in general.”
Callaghan didn’t begin rowing until after high school, but after he started as a walk-on while attending Oregon State University, he quickly became a part of the collegiate team, and then the national team for two years. “I was rowing on the East Coast, and when I decided to move back out west I was looking for jobs and the club here happened to have an opening,” Callaghan remembers. He applied, and the rest is history.
The Rowing Club is broken up into a variety of teams divided by age. For the high school-aged rowers, Callaghan says “crew is unlike any other after-school activity. You have to practice five or six days a week, and it’s never just a sitting-on-the-bench sport; everyone practices every day.”
Training gets even more strenuous before big competitions, and races themselves are “usually a day or two long, and go from seven in the morning to around six at night, with 60 or 70 races a day.”
Most recently, the club traveled to a meet in Tempe, Arizona and came home with 14 gold medals. In addition, for the second week in a row the junior team won an overall trophy. At another meet in San Diego Bay, the club completed the exact same feat: winning another 14 gold medals and the overall winning trophy as well.
Among the many North County residents that row, Callaghan says he considers Torrey Pines High School senior Harrison Schneider a stand-out and “one of our fastest guys.” After graduating from Torrey Pines, Harrison plans to pursue rowing in college and was recently recruited by Yale University to be a part of its lightweight program.
On the girls’ side, rower and Torrey Pines High School senior Gabriella Baracchini is also planning on continuing the sport after graduation, and was recruited by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to be a part of its crew team.
“On the woman’s side, there are lots of scholarships for college. If you have the ability for the sport, there’s a good chance you can get a scholarship,” Callaghan explained.
In recent years, the San Diego Rowing Club has grown in size — a point of pride for Callaghan who noted that “more and more athletes are becoming more and more competitive.” Perhaps that competitiveness comes from the instructors; aside from Callaghan, Susan Francia is the Junior Woman’s Head Coach and also happens to be a two-time U.S. Olympian for rowing.
Above all, it’s all about getting fit and having fun. “Fitness is a huge benefit; you won’t see too many overweight rowers. Even if you start out overweight, the more you train your health will improve over time,” said Callaghan, who said they welcome beginners with open arms to their 100-plus year tradition. “It’s a great sport to learn at your own pace. You usually start in a boat yourself, and get a great view to boot since you’re right on the bay. There’s 200 members in our club, so there’s always someone to row with.”
For more information on the San Diego Rowing Club, check out www.SanDiegoRowing.org for adults, or http://www.sdrcjrs.com/ for the junior divisions.