HARWICH ─ Jacob Awalt's mom was right. When encouraging her son to become a three-sport athlete, Darlene took him down to Long Pond for an introduction to rowing. Though Awalt was nervous at first, the sport quickly segued from a possibility to a passion.
“He never saw it before. He said, 'I don't know how to row' and I said, 'No one does. You don't keep these boats in the backyard,'” Darlene said. “There were so many freshmen that I don't think he felt out of place.”
That was four years ago. As Awalt, a Harwich resident and recent graduate of Nauset High School, explained, initially crew was going to be a fall sport, but once the rowing bug bit, it bit hard.
“It would have been crew, hockey in the winter, and lacrosse,” said Awalt. “But during fall crew I actually really liked it so instead of doing lacrosse in the spring I did spring crew.”
Since his freshman year when Awalt first arrived at the beach on Long Pond he has been training and competing fall and spring through Cape Cod Youth Rowing with head coach Brett Fournier, a top competitor at Clark University who was a founder of CCYR and has been coaching for more than two decades.
“Jacob rowed all four years for a total of eight seasons, as well as in our summer races to the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in Ontario,” Fournier said. “He has been a dedicated core member of our boys team [and] has competed in almost all every boat class in both sculling and sweep in many different seats within the boats over the years.”
Awalt said what stands out for him in terms of making crew such a rewarding sport is the inherent cooperative attitudes of fellow rowers.
“I just really liked how everyone got together and helped each other out, and I liked the regattas,” he said, adding that while competitive, the rowing atmosphere is one of sportsmanship. “Everyone there is nice. No one's mean to each other.”
During his career Awalt has earned a few key pieces of hardware in the form of medals from various races, most recently earning bronze at States with teammate Trevor Branch. Awalt said his most memorable race has been the Canadian Henley, which he described as “kind of like the Head of the Charles but in Canada.”
When it comes to choosing a favorite type of rowing, Awalt is quick with an answer.
“There are two kinds of boats, sculling and sweeping. Sweeping is just one oar, while sculling you use two,” he said. “I like both, but I prefer sculling and being in the bow because the bow is the person who steers the boat.”
When not on the water, Awalt is still, sort of, on the water, only this time it's frozen and he's clad in pads and skates, his Nauset hockey jersey bearing the school's traditional yellow and black. He's been skating since he was 2 and was one of Nauset's top defenders. Hockey is a sport that couldn't be more different from crew, but still complements it well.
“I'd say for crew helping hockey, the endurance training,” Awalt said. “You need a lot of endurance in crew and it would help me for hockey.”
Awalt said crew helped keep him in shape away from the ice so that when the season started he was athletically ready versus a hockey season starting with him working to get back into the grind. “Hockey's a lot of leg workout, and so a lot of that helped me with crew because crew is a huge leg workout as most of your power comes through your legs,” he said. “I like the adrenaline rush you get while getting on the ice.”
Both sports, Awalt said, helped him sharpen his academic focus, as well.
“I'd have a lot of free time if I didn't do sports and I probably wouldn't even try to do academics, but once you have less free time you kind of have to do them,” he said.
Darlene also appreciated how the unique sports, as well as her son's participation in music, expanded his high school friendships.
“I think [rowing] gives them a camaraderie different from the kind of kids that gravitate to hockey and football,” she said. “By doing crew and music with hockey he kind of got to meet a broader base of students.”
The only frustrating piece for both Awalt and his mother lies in the fact that Nauset didn't count Awalt's spring participation in crew as varsity competition, so Awalt ended his high school career without recognition of his efforts from his alma mater in either sport.
“I'm proud because he managed to keep trying hard even though he wasn't the center of attention. I think a lot of kids kind of give up when they're not the center of attention,” said Darlene. “He did extraordinary things for hockey and didn't get any accolades from the coach. He basically kept the other team from scoring when he was out. He's that fast and that good a skater. He's hung in there since he was 2. I don't think there's anybody who can skate like him on the team, and they won't see anyone for quite a while I think.”
Meanwhile, Awalt is preparing to head off to Mass Maritime in the fall. Though the school does have a crew team, and a big club hockey program, Awalt said he'll likely take his freshman year to settle in and get familiar with the workload.
He hopes his story inspires others to give rowing a try.
“Show up for the summer or try a season here,” he said. “There's no real recommendation for which is better, but everyone is welcoming. You don't have to worry bout being the odd one out. You kind of can't be. You're in the boat together and you have to know what's going on. You get to learn what's going on. The coaching staff will teach you how to row. Experience will come in time.”