On a weekday at 5 a.m. most Western students are comfortably asleep at home. But for senior crew captain Carl Smith and his fellow rowers, the day has already begun on the dark and icy waters of Lake Whatcom.
Smith, tall and muscularly built, is majoring in kinesiology and a Fairhaven College concentration in chemistry and psychology. He finds the time to balance school, practice, weight room sessions and organizational efforts for the team.
He said the hard work has paid off and that he and the team have built a strong brotherhood as well as won several races this year. Considering the adversity Western’s team has faced in the last decade after being dropped as a varsity sport, Smith feels making nationals is something to be proud of, he said
Despite Smith and his teammates’ best efforts at fundraising through various events and a GoFundMe campaign, head coach Jack Marolich said the team did not raise enough funds to travel to nationals this year.
“If we were to [go to nationals] it would just drain all our accounts, so the team came to the conclusion that it wasn’t responsible, because we have to have money for next year,” Marolich said.
Smith remains stoic despite the disappointment.
“I think it will work out better for the team next year,” Smith said.
Although nationals are out of the picture, the team still has one more event this year. Alumni Day is Saturday, May 16, at the Lake Whatcom boathouse, and it is an opportunity for friends and family of the team to participate in rowing activities as well as for coaches to present awards.
In 2006 Western dropped crew as a varsity sport, ending benefits such as early registration for classes and funding for races and travel. Smith said the team now relies on donations from alumni and dues from its members for a vast majority of their budget.
“A lot of the stuff that made it user friendly got pulled away,” Smith said.
The change to club status, and the extra responsibility that placed on team members, had a negative effect on how many rowers returned for upcoming seasons.
“At one point we only had one person returning for the next year,” Smith said. “From there we got up to about 20 people coming back between years and 30 overall at the end of the season.”
Smith gives Marolich much of the credit for rebuilding the team not only to a place where they are retaining members at a sustainable rate, but also for placing highly in national races.
“In his capacity as a volunteer coach, he’s really done a good job of rebuilding the program,” Smith said. “He’s taking guys that don’t have any experience and getting them into the sport.”
Marolich is in his sixth year as head coach, and as a Viking alumni and former rower himself he deeply enjoys his role with Western’s team, he said.
“I love coaching the team,” Marolich said. “Despite it being volunteer I get a lot more out of it than any paycheck would provide.”
The effect Marolich’s leadership has on the team’s success speaks for itself. Men’s crew won all of its Cascade Cup conference races this season and is currently ranked ninth in the nation for all men’s club rowing teams.
Smith said the sheer difficulty of preparing for a season, from eating well to working out everyday, creates an environment where everyone has sacrificed an enormous amount and is therefore much closer their teammates.
“You’ve seen everybody at their worst and at their best,” Smith said. “That’s what makes boats work, when you have a group that has that mutual understanding and respect.”