With the Program


Alumni support helps drive crew to victory

By Allen Lessels P'08
Photography by Jeff Earickson

So what’s a true-to-the-blue Colby grad doing flaunting memorabilia from Bowdoin, Bates, and Williams? In her living room, no less? Right there on the couch?

Members of the 2007 women's crew team prepare to launch a boat prior to a practice on Messalonskee Lake
Members of the 2007 women's crew team prepare to launch a boat prior to a practice on Messalonskee Lake

Far from showing any chink in the Colby pride of Katie O’Neill ’04, who rowed on the College’s national championship team in 2003, the quilt made of opponents’ T-shirts that hangs across the back of her sofa does exactly the opposite.

Wagering school T-shirts on the outcome of a race is part of the tradition of the sport. To the winner goes your top.

The shirt-swapping tradition helped draw O’Neill, a Washington, D.C., management consultant who these days rows rarely, into crew in her first few days on Mayflower Hill. And now they are just one symbol of her devotion to Colby and her support of the sport.

O’Neill is one of the driving forces behind a growing alumni group that has already helped the crew program in everything from fan support at races to networking to financial contributions and hopes to do much more later. “We’ve made some pretty good progress,” O’Neill said. “We’re trying to give it a little more structure, to help hold up the program and try to give back.”

The plan is working, said Stew Stokes, who just finished up his seventh season as Colby crew coach.

“Katie and some others are trying to change things without an oar in their hands,” Stokes said. “There are many ways to impact a program. They were great while they were here. They were good teammates and good people and all that stuff. Now they’re impacting the program as alumni. That’s just a great legacy.

Financially, the long-term goal is to establish an endowment of half a million dollars that will enable the team to spin off about $20,000 a year for boats and other equipment needs.

The shorter-term goal as the 2007 season neared its end was to collect the last $5,000 or so of the $30,000 needed for a new boat for the varsity women.

The project is about more than dollars and cents. It’s about the bonds that come from meeting at Lovejoy at 5:30 a.m. for the seven-mile drive to crew’s home at the Colby-Hume Center on Messalonskee Lake. About bonds from 24-hour spring-break bus rides to Georgia and points south to work out two or three times a day—“instead of going to Cancun with friends,” said former captain Pete Morelli ’02.

Bonds from collecting stream water in bottles in the fall and keeping it near the rowing machines as a winter reminder that there will be open water someday, even in Maine. Bonds from ever-expanding post-race meals put out by parents. “They’re like full-service restaurants now,” Morelli said.
Bonds—and interest—that come from success.

The women’s NCAA championship in 2003 gave the rowing teams a big boost.

In 2006 Morelli and Ted Farwell ’05, another former captain, became the first two Colby men to make the U.S. national team and go to the world championships. They hoped to compete in the worlds again in Munich in August and September but came up just short, with Farwell’s boat missing a slot by 1.5 seconds. Farwell is still aiming for the Olympics in 2008. Margaret Duggan ’06, who won her Head of the Charles race last fall, did make the national team and was bound for Munich in August. Steve Whelpley ’05 was also eyeing a spot on the national team.

Hilary Gehman ’93, a two-time Olympian and six-time member of the U.S. national team, was named women’s rowing coach at Cornell in July.

The success spurs others.

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