Four local crew programs compete in Metropolitan Youth Speed Regatta
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The sun had just barely been spotted near the banks of the Passaic River last Saturday morning, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a bevy of activity going on already.
The Metropolitan Youth Speed Order Regatta was taking place on the Passaic River with four local programs – Kearny, Belleville, Nutley and North Arlington – all participating in the event, which basically kicked off the spring crew season for the local schools.
The Kearny girls were in full force, ready for action.
“I was looking forward to it a lot,” said senior Gabriella Baptista, who earned a spot on the United States Rowing Junior National Development team last summer. “We get a chance to compete with our rivals, racing on our own river.”
“It’s more comforting for us,” said senior Cynthia Luz, who has earned a crew scholarship to Fordham University. “We already know the course and already know the river. It’s a plus for us.”
It was especially exciting for the locals, especially after the long and wicked winter everyone had to endure. It was excruciating for the crew members, who could not get on the water because the Passaic River was frozen for so long and the temperatures weren’t exactly conducive to outdoor activity of any kind.
“It was extremely difficult,” said veteran Kearny girls’ coach David Paszkiewicz. “Most of our training was done indoors. The kids would rather be on the water than being indoors. Normally, we’re able to get out during the last week of February. This year, we didn’t get out until the second week of March. The ice took a while to break up and go out. We didn’t get to go out every day until the weather settled.”
Paszkiewicz said that it’s hard to determine what girls go in what boat simply by using the ERG or ergometer, the machine that simulates rowing.
“You have to look at them on the water,” Paszkiewicz said. “You can look at the ERG first, but then you have to go by performance on the water.”
So the winter weather certainly limited those opportunities.
But some of the competitors don’t mind the ERG, which to most rowers is a very dirty word.
“I love ERG,” said Belleville sophomore Edward Greco, on the Belleville junior varsity four. “It’s fun. It really is. It helps to make us stronger on the water. For me, it’s a good showing.”
While Mother Nature wasn’t kind to the rowers all winter, she certainly was helpful Saturday, as there were bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s.
“It’s awesome,” Paszkiewicz said. “You couldn’t ask for a better day. We’re all excited to be home, excited to be here with Belleville, Nutley and North Arlington. It’s a fun day for everybody.”
It was also a fun day for the Kearny Crew Booster Club, which organized a host of fundraisers, perhaps the best being the rubber duck race.
According to Kearny Crew Booster Club president Vicki Grimm, the club put 200 numbered ducks on the water and watched them float with the tide for about 200 yards. Each person purchased a duck for $5 and the winning duck received half of the pot.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Grimm, who has two sons, Cameron (a sophomore) and Patrick (a freshman) on the current team and sent eldest son Jack to Drexel to compete in crew. “Everyone wants to watch their duck win. It’s a tradition we do.”
Grimm said that there are many times that she has to get up at 3 a.m. to get ready for events far away from home.
“So today we were here at 6 a.m.,” Grimm said. “This is good to be home. And we were lucky to get a beautiful day.”
What inspires a youngster to want to join crew? It takes a special breed of athlete and competitor.
“It does take a lot of dedication and it’s very draining,” Luz said. “It’s such a tough sport, both mentally and physically, because when the mind gives up, it’s not easy to get it back. You also have to go with your heart. I never thought it would lead to a college scholarship for me.”
Chelsea Dantas is a coxswain, the one who is basically the vocal coach on the boat, telling the teammates how to stroke and when.
“I was in seventh grade and my math teacher (former boys’ crew coach Scott Fuchs) said that I had a projecting voice,” Dantas said. “He suggested it to me and I was intrigued by it. It’s been a crazy experience. I never thought I’d like it this much. I’ve seen a lot of girls come and go. There are some who can take it and those who can’t. You can’t come here and not want it.”
Baptista remembered being a little girl and watching other teams race on the river.
“I was like in fifth grade and was on the bridge and seeing them, thinking that it was so cool,” Baptista said. “It was different. I didn’t know if I’d like it, but I tried out and I loved it.”
Luz, Baptista and Dantas were joined on the varsity four by Sabrina Magee and Jessica Cavalier.
The Kearny boys were also excited to be on the river for the Metropolitan Regatta.
“It was very frustrating this winter, wanting so many times to come down to the river, then having to end up in the weight room or the school gym,” said senior captain Wally Szymanski, a member of the lightweight four. “We just couldn’t get on the water. It was so cold with snow on the ground for so long. This is honestly our first beautiful race day. It’s so nice to have this after such a tough winter. I’ve been doing this for four years and this is my last year. So I want to give it my all and try to have no regrets. It all comes down to this. This is what we train for.”
John Paszkiewicz is the son of girls’ coach David and brother of assistant coach David Jr., so it’s all in the family.
“I’ve been involved in crew for as long as I can remember,” John Paszkiewicz said. “They were big influences on me. Once I got to high school, I knew that this is where I wanted to be. I knew that it was going to eventually be me. It’s very exciting to be here today, especially with the weather we had. It was always so windy and cold. We have a nice day today.”
Belleville junior Patrick Marriot was excited to be on the Passaic River.
“It’s very motivational, being here with family and friends cheering us on,” Marriot said. “It makes us row harder and we’re representing our school and hometown. All the eyes are upon you. This is why we do this sport. It’s the sport we all love.”
“Our parents can’t drive for two hours to see us race for five minutes,” Greco said. “So they’re here and that makes us strive even harder.”
“I have a lot of my friends here,” said sophomore Aum Parekh. “I had to explain to my parents what crew was. It’s much more intense than some paddle boat thing. I woke up at 4 a.m. today and woke my parents up to get me here. It’s great fun, great fun.”
Nutley also had a lot of fun in the sun on the river Saturday.
“When I was in sixth grade, a coach came up to me during a tug-of- war and said that I should do crew,” said JiannaMarie Padilla. “I remembered it and thought it would be a good team sport. It’s not easy to do, like most people think. But I’m glad I got involved in it.”
Padilla is headed to Richard Stockton College to study special education.
Kaitlyn Quinn basically had no choice but to participate in crew. “Both of my parents and all of my siblings were crew members,” Quinn said. “So I really didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t one for softball or track, because I was so bad at those. I loved joining crew. I might not have liked it at first, but I love it now.”
And racing on the river?
“It’s so great, because so many people come,” Quinn said. “Friends come, family comes. It’s so nice.”
Just like the weather. Most of the locals will return in three weeks to compete in the Passaic River Sprints.
For the results of Saturday, log on to www.herenow.com.