Ridaught: Gainesville Area Rowing hits milestone

The Gainesville Area Rowing club.
Front Row (from left): Caroline Pulliam (GHS), Hannah Grace Glover (GHS), Addison Mathews (GHS), Tessa Boudreaux (BHS), Lily Spillane (BHS) Back Row (from left): Bob Van Twyver, Mason Turek (Homeschool), Drew Conner (PKY), Matthew Krzykowski (PKY), Eli Wells (BHS), Branan Andreu (ESH), Miles Loyd (BHS), Garrett Bauer, Jess Brougham.
Courtesy of Gretchen Loyd

The sport of rowing is about many things.

It’s about competitiveness, teamwork, physical and mental fitness, and being on the water.

Gainesville Area Rowing (GAR), which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, is a local non-profit dedicated to promoting the sport of rowing in the Gainesville/Alachua County area.

“Rowing is a sport that gets in people’s blood,” said Bob Van Twyver, head coach and rowing director for GAR. “New rowers often fall in love with the sport instantly, so it is not difficult to get people to join. However, some people may not know how much they will love it, or they may fear the water.”

He said there are many benefits associated with being on the water.

“I tell them how we maintain safety, and also how being on the water is an idyllic and cleansing environment,” Van Twyver said. “I tell them how we all feel the freedom and release of negative emotion that comes with being on the water. I also ask them how it would feel to be in the best shape of their lives. Finally, I mention the level of teamwork in rowing that brings such tight, lifelong relationships.”

Van Twyver said rowing develops very high levels of physical fitness.

“Maybe the highest fitness levels in the world by several measures,” he said. “I have seen miracle improvements in rowers’ fitness. Body makeovers are common. Physical improvements such as aerobic fitness capacity levels are among the best in the world. If you lack flexibility, rowing will help. You want to feel more coordinated? Rowing helps this too. You want to be on a close-knit team? Rowing excels in team building.”

Some are hesitant, so Van Twyver addresses those concerns too.

“Oftentimes, people are afraid of the water,” he said. “I ask them about their swimming skills and oftentimes prospects fear they will end up in the water. Although this does happen, it is rare. I also offer statistics from personal experience about being on the water.”

Rowing is hypnotic and also super intense.

“Rowing can elicit an alternate state of consciousness,” Van Twyver said. “When an athlete achieves a state like this with others, it becomes a powerful shared experience. When we share an experience of difficulty, or a large test, it feels powerful, and the experience draws us together in a powerful way. Eight people moving in unison, despite their differences, connected to the boat equally. Of course, an eight needs the ninth person (coxswain) who captains, encourages, and strategizes for the boat.”

GAR gives high school students an opportunity to compete on a big stage with a chance to earn a scholarship to compete in college.

Their spring rowing was highly successful.

According to Gretchen Loyd, the current PR Director, GAR sent two boats to the US Rowing Youth Nationals this past spring and over four days competed with 4,000 athletes representing 225 clubs from across the country. There were 835 boats entered in the competition.

Some of the highlights during the fall included 4+ girls finishing 24th out of 90 at the Head of the Charles, the premier fall rowing event.

At the Head of the Hooch, both youth and masters (adults) competed with highlights that included third place in Women’s Open 4x, first place in Women’s Championship 2x, first place in Women’s Championship Lightweight 1x, third place in Women’s Youth U19 1x, first place in Women’s Master 1x Ages 43 – 54, and fourth place in Women’s Youth U194+.

A total of 80% of their senior class signed to collegiate programs. Three females signed to Division-1 programs and one female signed to a D2 school.

Van Twyver has been coaching GAR for just two months but his coaching history spans 35 years and the GAR post fitted his needs and desires.

“GAR is in a great city with deep resources, and GAR has a history of success,” he said. “I lived in Gainesville as a college student and as a young child in the 60s. Gainesville is a great choice as a career move location, and I knew I would be happy here.”

Rowing has a year-round schedule, although juniors tend to row in the fall and spring for competition.

“Summer is usually time off for juniors, but some row all summer too,” Van Twyver said. “Prestigious, championship-caliber regattas happen in the summer. The spring is our main racing season for juniors. Fall is geared toward recruiting, learn to row, and long-distance racing.”

GAR hosts a fall regatta, and they also attend three or four more regattas. Rowers who want to develop should be on the team for fall and spring.

“I tend to be lenient in the fall, however, since personal development is important for young athletes,” Van Twyver said. “Therefore, I allow some athletes to do other activities in the fall or summer but I also maintain that each rower then must commit to the spring racing schedule and the practice schedule. Absence means a rower misses something important. Absence, especially for the entire fall, may even eliminate a chance to be in the boat.”

According to Van Twyver, rowing “is an ancient sport that has lived in obscurity,” so it has not attracted the best athletes like other popular sports have.

“But in the last 15 years or so, rowing has enjoyed a rise in popularity,” he said. “Team USA has dominated women’s international competition, and much of this is attributed to the rise of NCAA women’s rowing, and therefore scholarship.”

High school practice starts Aug. 14th, followed by middle school in early September.

Races are in October, November and early December. Practices are five to six days per week (Monday through Saturday).

They alternate Wednesday practice. The girls practice one Wednesday and the boys the next, allowing for some extra homework/appointment time.

This fall the regattas will be First Coast, Head of the Hooch, Gatorhead (hosted by GAR at Newnans Lake), and possibly Head of the South, for a total of three to four races during the fall.

For more information about GAR, email Van Twyver at headcoach@gainesvillearearowing.com.

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