‘You earn your medals in the winter and you collect them in the spring’

Crew team takes home awards at ACRA National Championship

The school year ended with a big splash for five seniors on the University of Rhode Island Crew team, who recently closed out their collegiate rowing careers with a national championship victory.

The team, including twelve seniors, loaded onto seven vans and took the 16-hour trip to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to compete in the American College Rowing Association (ACRA) National Championship Regatta from May 20-22. 69 other schools competed at the championships.

The men’s varsity four boat, consisting of Levi Comire, Bradley Schmidt, Gunnar Rinkel, Isaiah Kittel and Kathryn McGee took home the national championship following a narrow 0.8-second victory against second-placed the University of Vermont. URI also picked up several other top finishes in other events over championship weekend, including its first-ever overall points award in the men’s small boat category.

The men’s novice lightweight boat finished fourth in Sunday’s grand final, while John Mannion concluded his collegiate career with a bronze medal in the men’s one grand final. The men’s two boat finished first by over 16 seconds, while the men’s four boat finished fourth in their race. Finally, the men’s novice four came in second to win the silver medal in Sunday’s grand final. 

Over the years, the URI crew team has established a close-knit, hardworking culture that has allowed them to become so successful. As one of 20 student-run club programs at URI, efforts to organize the roster, fundraising and training begin very early on according to Comire.

“Efforts come from the first day of school, even before the school year starts,” he said. “Every year, people graduate, and we start making up plans to come recruit new guys for the team. But it all starts the first week of school, training all year long, winter training is a huge part of that. That’s where you really build your endurance and your strength for the spring season.”

Caroline Creamer, who will serve as the women’s captain during her senior year next season, emphasized the importance of winter training in preparation for the spring season.

“We have this saying, ‘You earn your medals in the winter and you collect them in the spring,’” she said.

Following a spring season of racing against varsity programs, the ACRA National Championships was made up exclusively of club teams. According to Rinkel, there is a strong mutual respect for the competition, as each program had to endure the unique struggles that comes with being a collegiate club team, such as organizational responsibilities including fundraising and recruiting that fall entirely on student leadership. 

“When you get to the national championship, everybody’s gone through what you’ve gone through,” Rinkel said. “So it’s like a mutual respect that everyone who’s there has worked really hard to get there.”

According to Rinkel, the seniors have made numerous sacrifices in order to keep the team alive in their years on the team, from persevering through a difficult period of pandemic cancellations, continuing to work and recruit during this time and even missing their college graduation to compete at this year’s ACRA National Championships.

“You want to make your mark on the program during your time on the team, you’re only here for four years, and if it comes down to one race it comes down to one race,” Rinkel said. “The group that we have that went, we stayed committed, through the two years of [COVID-19], we didn’t miss a beat, we trained, we trained, we trained so that when we came out of it, we could still be here.”

For Creamer, this was the finish that the seniors deserved after so much dedication over their years of involvement with the program.

“To watch our seniors who have worked really hard over the last four years finally achieve something that was so much bigger than themselves was really impactful,” she said. “Now, our younger members of the team are very excited to have that in the future, and to compete, and they want it now just as bad. So I think that really helped everybody moving forward for the next generation of rowers.”

According to Creamer, he and the rest of the team agree that seeing the seniors leave is a bittersweet feeling after all that they’ve given to the program, and the promising future they’ve built for the team.

 “It’s sad to see them go, but awesome to see them leave a high note, and that they’re going to have such an amazing legacy at our boathouse,” Creamer said.