GVSU takes 'Rock and Row' to Florida

By Kevin VanAntwerpen | 1/9/11 6:17pm

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Courtesy Photo / John Bancheri
The GVSU Rowing Club opened its version of Bowl season with the 1st ever, “Gulf of Mexico P.p.s. Bowl”. Jimmy Wilkie, Robbie DeWeerd, Zak Armstrong, and Marco Benedetti took first place by rowing the 250 meter course in 11 strokes.


Any student stranded in Allendale over New Year’s would be jealous of Grand Valley State University’s varsity rowing training trip to Sarasota, Fla. last week.

The team left on Dec. 28 and returned Friday with marked improvement and darker skin tones, said GVSU head coach John Bancheri.

“Every day was a highlight for me,” Bancheri said. “I’ve been a coach for 32 years, and this was the best, most productive trip I’ve seen in my career. It was the pride. The attitude. There was a focus on wanting to be better.”

The trip, which Bancheri affectionately dubbed the “Rock and Row Tour,” included stops at multiple venues in Forida, including Sarasota, Miami and Naples, each of which hosted races.

“Usually we don’t go to multiple venues,” Bancheri said. “But we wanted to make this one as interesting and fun as possible.”

The week included numerous “bowls,” a group of several races named after the college football bowl season. Each of the different bowls included a homemade trophy for the winner.

Most notable among the races was “The Gulf of Mexico Bowl.” A rare western wind flattened the water and allowed the team to row their boats out to a sand dune, carry them over the top and reach the Gulf of Mexico. There, they had the first crew boat race in the Gulf, which gained the Lakers coverage on several rowing websites.

Another intriguing race was the “Minnie the Moocher Bowl,” named after a local dolphin known to appear beside boats and beg for food. During the race, Minnie appeared next to Bancheri’s boat and swam beside the racers.

Although the trip was enjoyable for the crew, it wasn’t easy. The team rowed a 3.5 hour race that spanned 25 miles, a near-marathon that rower Zak Armstrong said was the hardest part of the trip.

“It was difficult because when we finished, we knew we weren’t done,” Armstrong said. “A few hours later we had difficult speed races. It’s challenging, but that’s why we do it — to show each other what we’re capable of.”

Despite the productivity, the trip wasn’t all work. The rowers spent New Year’s Eve on Miami Beach at a concert called “Jam in the Sand,” featuring Natasha Bedingfield and Leona Lewis.

“We were doing fun things all week, but this was really the only time we could relax and recover,” Armstrong said. “The girls were really good looking, too. It’s Miami. What do you expect?”

Throughout the trip, GVSU alumni from the area came out to support the rowers. Among them was Diane Hatch, the first student ever admitted to GVSU.

“It was pretty cool to have all this different support for Grand Valley,” Bancheri said. “It’s like having our own cheering squad.”

The trip put new life into the team, said rower Tucker Anderson. Winters in Allendale restrict the team to indoor rowing machines, which he called “bland and dry”.

“Practicing outside was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It’ll get us through the next eight weeks while we practice indoors.”

The rest of the rowing team will join the varsity rowers this spring break on the return trip to Sarasota. First-hand accounts of the trip are available on the rowing team’s website, www.grandvalleyrowing.com.

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