Launching a new crew team at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School

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Even in their ninth year, Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries continues to grow and celebrate firsts. In February, the new John Paul the Great crew team held their first rowing practice, becoming the 56th school or organization in Virginia to offer rowing. Established through the interests and efforts of students, the team is coached by Brian Tassi of Resilient Rowing, a junior rowing club that operates out of Sandy Run Regional Boathouse in Fairfax.

Sophomores Grace Hansen and Julia Livingston were inspired to start a crew team following their participation in the Prince William Crew Association’s summer rowing program at Lake Ridge Marina.

“I had heard about crew from my friends who are on teams, and it sounded like something I would like. My parents also wanted me to be involved in sports,” said Hansen. “John Paul the Great didn’t have a team yet, but I started chatting with my friend Julia about starting one and she loved the idea. We participated in the summer program and knew this was something we had to do (here). ”

After returning to school, the girls started their campaign for a rowing team. They found 40 peers who shared their interest in the sport. With the help of the school, they held an exploratory meeting. Although successful, the meeting also revealed some barriers to participation; it would cost $900 per student to row for the season and the club would not be open to novices.

Despite the hurdles, six students were on board for the inaugural 2017 season. Joining Hansen and Livingston were junior Megan Burns, and sophomores Wilson Stearns, Patrick Brisbin and Gabriel Hain.

Nearly two months after their first practice, Hain and Brisbin represented the John Paul the Great crew team alongside 26 other rowing clubs in the first race of their season — The Darrell Winslow Regatta at the Occoquan Reservoir in Fairfax Station April 15.  The following weekend, the crew team competed against 38 teams in the Ted Phoenix Regatta in Occoquan. This time, however, team members Burns, Hansen, and Livingston joined Brisbin and Hain, who completed their Men’s Double event in third place.

Even though the team hasn’t placed yet in a regatta, members continue to improve. In the last week of April, the club participated in the Al Urquia Regatta in Occoquan. Hansen and Livingston improved their time in the Women’s Double event by 6 percent, and Burns shaved 5 percent off her time in the Women’s Single event. Win, lose or draw, the team is dedicated to the sport.

“I love crew because it makes me a better person,” said Livingston. “I was never athletic, didn’t like sports, and did not consider myself an ‘outdoor’ person. But now all that has changed,” she said. “I love being outside on the river, working out. I want to grow the team and get a lot more people involved.”

The crew team will end their season by competing in the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships in May.

An exciting addition to the school’s roster of extracurriculars, the crew team has enjoyed a strong start to their inaugural season and demonstrated promise for the future. “Long term, we’d love to see John Paul the Great with a boathouse on the Potomac, just down the road from our school,” said Livingston.  “But that’s probably a long way off.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017