Peninsula rower helps Virginia club qualify for prestigious Henley
Scott Stuard (second rower from the bow) and Virginia's club rowing team qualified to compete in the Henley Regatta on the Thames River near London. (contributed photo, Daily Press / June 25, 2011)
Looks pretty cool, he thought of the televised images.
No idea that a year later he would become a rower. No idea that his muscles and mind could endure such abuse. No idea that come the summer of 2011 he would be part of a University of Virginia eight-man boat competing at one of the sport's most prestigious events.
The Henley Royal Regatta begins Wednesday on the River Thames near London. A Hampton native and Warwick High graduate, Stuard and his teammates are entered in the Temple Challenge Cup division along with 63 other boats from around the world.
Mighty impressive for someone who first latched onto an oar during 2009 tryouts at Virginia.
"It was on an ergometer (rowing machine) and one of the hardest things I've ever done," Stuard said from England. "I barely made the team. … Now I'm kind of at the top. It's been well worth it."
Like the Henley Royal Regatta, Virginia's rowing club was established during the 1800s. It is privately funded by parents, alumni and businesses and receives no support from the university or athletic department — there's little incentive since the NCAA, in bowing to Title IX , sponsors rowing only for women.
So these young men, much like those brilliantly portrayed in the late David Halberstam's book "The Amateurs," row for the love of it.
"You feel you've done more that morning than most people do in a week," Stuard said of the team's pre-dawn workouts. "Everybody complains about 10 a.m. classes. Our schedule does not compare to regular student life."
Indeed, Virginia rowers compete throughout the academic year and beyond. There are 5,000-meter races during the fall, 2,000-meter events in the spring.
Practice, Stuard said, is six days a week, from 6 a.m.-8:30 Mondays-Fridays, a more relaxed 9-11:30 on Saturdays. Oh, and don't forget three weight-lifting sessions per week.
Stuard never imagined he could withstand such training. He played soccer as a kid but gave it up in the 9th grade to focus on academics.
Yet at 6-foot-5, Stuard has a rower's long, lean frame. In fact, during his senior year at Warwick, a Stanford rowing coach emailed Stuard's guidance counselor in random search of tall, academically accomplished students who might be interested in rowing.
Stuard was more interested in attending Princeton, and when that didn't work out, he settled for Virginia, where the campus reminded him of Princeton. Once enrolled in the fall of 2009, he attended a rowing meeting just for kicks.
"It is not unusual at all for someone to come into U.Va. with no rowing experience and find themselves, several years later, enormously successful on our team," Virginia coach Frank Biller emailed from England. "Rowing, as a sport, does not exist in many parts of the United States, and there are tons of kids coming out of high school who simply never had access to a rowing program. …
"The dynamics change at the Ivy League and at schools that bring in 12 scholarship athletes a year, but most programs that are not that fortunate have very active and aggressive on-grounds recruiting programs. Virginia is no exception, seeking every fall to tap into the vast numbers of incredible athletes at U.Va. who have never had access to rowing before.
"Four rowers out of (our) top eight had never rowed before they got to college, and U.Va.'s last Olympian, Wyatt Allen (gold medalist in 2004, bronze in 2008), had never touched an oar before he joined the team."
Virginia qualified for Henley for the first time since 2004 by winning the Varsity 8 competition at the American Collegiate Rowing Association's national championships last month on Georgia's Lake Lanier. Stuard — he occupies the second seat from the boat's front, or bow — and his mates edged Michigan in the final, the same team that defeated them in early May at the Dad Veil Regatta in Philadelphia.
Virginia's competitors at Henley will include Cal-Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and boats from Ireland, Holland and England. As he prepared a spaghetti dinner — rowers carb load, too — for the club's traveling party of 16, Stuard said he believes Virginia can win at Henley.
A sophomore history major, he plans to row his final two years at Virginia and then perhaps try out for the under-23 national team. The next step up would be the national team and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
That would be full circle for someone who discovered the sport watching the Olympics on television.
"We'll see," Stuard said, "how far it goes."
To date, it's gone amazingly far.
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