Our Firm & Mission


At Sparks, we live to develop the rowing community.

Sparks Consulting guides rowing athletes and their families through the arduous task of finding the right college culture and rowing program to meet their academic and athletic needs – our ultimate goal is character development. We work in the background, identifying our students’ character first then helping their families by providing a knowledge base and support system for their values during the college selection and recruiting process. College counseling with us allows families to work with folks who share their passion and also have a vested interest in creating the right fit between athletes and programs so the experience is rewarding for everyone involved.

Beyond counseling, we hold domestic rowing camps, international development programs, and a specific coxswain development camp. Our Olympic and World Champion coxswains have created the only coxswain curriculum in the world to provide individualized coxswain coaching for our mentoring programs and at our coxswains only camps.

Leadership


Ryan Sparks
Ryan Sparks

Part coach and part entrepreneur, Ryan started Sparks Consulting after a diverse and committed career working with multiple American collegiate rowing programs. He started coaching freshmen and then varsity crews while recruiting men and women at selective institutions Bates College and Wesleyan University, assisting in each program’s best finishes at the time. He then moved on to coach at Yale University, which included a freshmen coaching and recruiting slot. In each case, Sparks worked closely with admissions to ensure the successful passage of student-athletes through the athletic admissions process while developing a strong understanding of the recruiting habits of specific college rowing programs and coaches. Additionally, he has held coaching positions in Canada, New Zealand, and Germany working with high-performance and elite athletes. Ryan really enjoys the rowing community in the US and abroad.

During his time as a coach, 92% of the crews Sparks worked with made the grand final in their respective championship racing in part due to excellent recruiting. He re-certifies on the NCAA Division I recruiting examination every year.

Throughout his coaching career, Sparks was always fascinated by the role of culture (both nationally and internal to the boathouse) in creating a positive and effective environment for athletes’ development. He came to the conclusion that even though the rowing stroke was somewhat similar the world over, fitting athletes to the right boathouse culture could not only create a better experience but also provide a deliberate edge.


Leanne Davis / Washington, DC

Leanne currently directs Sparks’ counseling division. Her first job after college was flying CH-46 Chinook helicopters in and out of Iraq, so her skill set is perfectly suited for our work! Our current COO, Leanne has worked with multiple organizations to make the leap between start-up (great ideas) and small business (great ‘deliverable’ packages) by outlining and then streamlining deliverable workflow to make it more efficient, effective, and organized. Beyond her business experience, Leanne has lived rowing and coached crews in Seattle, San Diego, Connecticut, and DC. She has experience with the recruiting process as a junior and collegiate coach, including her previous position as head women’s recruiter at the George Washington University. Leanne re-certifies on the NCAA Division I recruiting exam every year.


David Payne / San Diego, CA & South Island, New Zealand
David Payne

Dave heads Sparks’ experiential education program. Before assuming the overall camp director position, Dave spent three southern hemisphere winters directing the Sparks program in Dunedin, New Zealand. Prior to his time in New Zealand, Dave spent five summers as a counselor and programming director for an immersion program for domestic and international high school students; three in Boston and two in Florence. After completing a successful rowing career at UCSD, Dave worked his first coaching job at Gippsland Grammar in Australia. He has also served as high school rowing coach and teacher in San Diego and New York City and holds a deep passion for education, both domestically and abroad.


Marcus McElhenney / San Francisco, CA
Marcus McElhenney

An Olympian, Marcus is a Philadelphia coxswain who’s found victory on the Schuylkill and many places elsewhere. After a successful scholastic career in Philadelphia, he coxed the USA Men to three world championship titles and the Men’s 8+ to a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games. Marcus is an experienced junior coach and possesses a personal knowledge of many of the country’s former US team members coaching on the junior and collegiate levels. During his time at Sparks, Marcus has worked with other international coxswains to design some of the most advanced, concrete curriculums for coxswain education in the world including our coxswains’ only camp. Marcus is certified on the NCAA Division I recruiting exam and holds a JD from the University of San Francisco.


Andy Schneider / New York, NY
Andy Schneider

Andy is a former collegiate coxswain, prep school coach, admissions director, Division I coach, CFO and current Sparks board member. Needless to say, he enjoys multitasking. Andy holds an MBA from George Washington University. Prior to that, he obtained an MA in English from Middlebury College while teaching at the Kent School. He has also worked as a recruiter and rowing coach at Lehigh and George Washington. Andy worked for PriceWaterhouseCooper before moving to the Peck School to serve as their Chief Financial Officer.

Counseling Associates


Leigh Carroll / Cambridge, MA

Leigh Carroll is a former Division 1 and National Team coxswain who has coached on both the junior and collegiate levels. After a successful career coxing the Brown Men’s varsity 8+, she held coaching positions with Wayland-Weston Rowing Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe lightweight women’s team. An experienced international racer, Leigh also coxed the US women’s 8+ to a second-place finish in Australia at the Samsung World Cup after helping the U23 national team to a bronze finish at the World Championships and Brown to a second-place finish in the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. Leigh holds a Masters Degree in Education from Stanford University with a concentration in Secondary School Teaching.


Christopher DeYoung / Princeton, NJ
Chris DeYoung

Chris comes to Sparks after serving as a coach with men’s club programs at Rutgers and the University of Michigan. With a day job as a high school history teacher, Chris also has junior coaching experience with multiple programs including serving most recently as program director for Bishop Eustace Prep. Chris brings a knowledge of club rowing to Sparks, which is a extremely complex paradigm given the level of disparity in resources, coaching, and program leadership. He re-certifies on the NCAA Division 1 recruiting exam every year.


Hilary Gehman / Princeton, NJ
Hilary Gehman

A two-time Olympian and six-time US National team member, Hilary served as the Staley Women’s Head Rowing Coach at Cornell University from 2007-2014. She was also named as the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association mid-Atlantic head coach of the year in 2010 and 2011 and the Women’s sprints league head coach of the year in 2010. She has also coached with the US National Team, Georgetown University, and at Lewis and Clark college. The list of achievements goes on and on, but this is a short bio and we think you get the point. Hilary has two young sons who will undoubtedly try rowing at some point in the next 10 years and re-certifies on the NCAA recruiting exam every year.


Marc Mandel / Washington, DC
Marc Mandel

A Texas native, Marc serves as the head coach at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. The program has been remarkably successful during his time there, with an over 50% average of Stotesbury and Scholastic national championships. Prior to Gonzaga, Marc was the heavyweight men’s freshman coach and recruiter at Georgetown University and the head coach at the Florida Institute of Technology. He also holds an MBA from the Georgetown McDonough School of Business and enjoys chasing his two kids around the house. Marc certifies on the NCAA recruiting examination annually.


Marcus McElhenney / San Francisco, CA
Marcus McElhenney

An Olympian, Marcus is a Philadelphia coxswain who’s found victory on the Schuylkill and many places elsewhere. After a successful scholastic career in Philadelphia, he coxed the USA Men to three world championship titles and the Men’s 8+ to a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games. Marcus is an experienced junior coach and possesses a personal knowledge of many of the country’s former US team members coaching on the junior and collegiate levels. During his time at Sparks, Marcus has worked with other international coxswains to design some of the most advanced, concrete curriculums for coxswain education in the world including our coxswains’ only camp. Marcus is certified on the NCAA Division I recruiting exam and holds a JD from the University of San Francisco.


Christina Meyer / Seattle, WA
Christina Meyer

Christina joins the staff at Sparks after coaching and recruiting at Harvard, Michigan, and Washington State Universities. The varsity assistant coach at Harvard after captaining her college team and teaching and coaching at Brentwood College School in British Columbia, she went on to be the novice coach and recruiter at Washington State University. Christina then returned to her native state and worked with the Michigan women’s program in a similar role. Christina also brings a high degree of familiarity with Philadelphia, having rowed out of Vesper Boat Club while training for the US team. Christina holds an M.Ed. in human physiology and re-certifies on the NCAA recruiting exam every year.


Patrick Rufo / Philadelphia, PA
Patrick Rufo

Before coaching and recruiting lightweight men at the University of Pennsylvania, Pat contended for both the 2000 and 2008 US Olympic rowing teams. He’s been rowing since 1996, and still tinkers around with the sport today. After his time at Penn, he helped develop the Pennsylvania Athletic Club’s summer programs and served as director for their large, nationally competitive junior program for five years. Pat is also an Advanced Certified Personal Trainer and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Alongside those, he holds instructor certificates from Crossfit and US Track and Field, to name a few. Pat feels there’s nothing more satisfying than creating a path for development, particularly in young folks. He re-certifies on the NCAA recruiting exam every year.


Nate Rooks / Seattle, WA
Nate Rooks

Nate is a product of Bainbridge Island, WA and represented the US in the men’s 8+ on the Under 23 national team while in college. After a year-long foray into the start-up world, Nate joined the women’s staff at Stanford and served with them for seven years, spending four as the recruiting coordinator. He also ran Stanford’s summer rowing camps. On the side, Nate still serves as a senior writer for an automobile blog and plans to race in a kayak of his own design from Seattle to Alaska next year. He certifies on the NCAA exam annually.

Coxing Associates


Marcus McElhenney
Marcus McElhenney

An Olympian, Marcus is a Philadelphia coxswain who’s found victory on the Schuylkill and many places elsewhere. After a successful scholastic career in Philadelphia, he coxed the USA Men to three world championship titles and the Men’s 8+ to a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games. Marcus is an experienced junior coach and possesses a personal knowledge of many of the country’s former US team members coaching on the junior and collegiate levels. During his time at Sparks, Marcus has worked with other international coxswains to design some of the most advanced, concrete curriculums for coxswain education in the world including our coxswains’ only camp. Marcus is certified on the NCAA Division I recruiting exam and holds a JD from the University of San Francisco.


Kristin Kit
Kristin Kit

The subject of a Canadian newspaper article entitled, “Kit Anything but an Overnight Sensation” (yes, rowing makes the headlines in other countries), Kristin’s sites are set on the Canadian Women’s 8+ for 2016. To gain entry to the boat, she would need to beat out seven time Canadian women’s olympic coxswain Lesley Thompson. And yet, she continues towards her goal. She has coxed with the women’s CanAmEx (Canada/US/Mexico) team as well as the Canadian Under-23 national team. She is currently based in British Columbia after a stint working for FISA (the international rowing body) in Switzerland.


Leigh Carroll

Leigh Carroll is a former Division 1 and National Team coxswain who has coached on both the junior and collegiate levels. After a successful career coxing the Brown Men’s varsity 8+, she held coaching positions with Wayland-Weston Rowing Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe lightweight women’s team. An experienced international racer, Leigh also coxed the US women’s 8+ to a second-place finish in Australia at the Samsung World Cup after helping the U23 national team to a bronze finish at the World Championships and Brown to a second-place finish in the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. Leigh holds a Masters Degree in Education from Stanford University with a concentration in Secondary School Teaching.


Katelin Snyder
Katelin Snyder

A world champion, Katelin is also a former junior and two-time IRA national collegiate champion coxswain. During her college career, Katelin also served as a U23 national team coxswain, winning two golds and a bronze at the U23 world champs. After college, Katelin went on to win gold medals at the 2009 world championships and the 2010 world cup in the women’s 8+. From 2010 to 2012, Katelin served as the assistant coach and recruiter for the Loyala Marymount women in California. She is back in the coxswain’s seat and currently vying for a spot in the 2014 US women’s 8+ with an eye to the 2016 Olympics.

International Associates


Donald Legget / Weybridge, England
Donald Legget

Donald is a Cambridge University rowing coach and somewhat of a legend in the UK rowing community. OK, not somewhat — he is a legend. After rowing in Goldie in 1962, he rowed for Cambridge in 1963 and 1964. He then went on to be one of the 3 initiators of the Leander Cadet Scheme. He has coached every Cambridge Squad since 1968. In 1995, he went back as Coaching Adviser to his alma mater Radley College, an independent boarding school in Oxford. He has also coached a CUBC crew every year since 1968. Donald has won the Henley Royal Regatta in several categories and coached internationally with GB Rowing over the course of his career. Though known for being blunt and to the point, he possesses an incredible memory for those who have rowed for him over the years and sees work with Sparks as an opportunity to help British juniors develop and engage the sport on a different level.


Jon Williamson / Canterbury, England
Jon Williamson

A former GB lightweight and word championship silver medal winner, Jon Williamson is currently the director of rowing at King’s Canterbury School in Canterbury, England. He also served as director of rowing at Durham School. During the summer, Jon works with the England Junior team for the Home Countries International — the UK’s version of CanAmEx. Jon comes to Sparks in his excitement about the company’s mission to extend the rowing careers for the many talented junior athletes in the UK, junior national team or otherwise.


David Olson / Berkshire, MA & Dunedin, New Zealand

Dave Olson serves as the on-ground program coordinator for our NZ Development program. After growing up on a farm in New Hampshire, Dave attended boarding school where he was first introduced to rowing and living away from home. Following that he completed a successful career at the University of New Hampshire where he received a B.A. in English and a M.Ed. in Secondary Education while putting in countless miles on the water rowing for the university. Dave then taught English at a public high school in the White Mountains for three years before returning to the boarding school and rowing world teaching and coaching at Berkshire School in Massachusetts.

Administrative Associates


Ben O’Grady / Orlando, FL
Ben O'grady

A former rowing coach at Louisville, Duke, Texas, UCF, and OARS (juniors) Ben O’Grady specializes in digital marketing and content management. He’s also a Crossfit, adventure sport, and general hardcore athletic aficionado. Ben has completed the SEALFit Kokoro course, which is the closest civilians can get to undergoing BUD/S (the boot camp for Navy SEALS). Needless to say, we’re lucky to have an operator like him on staff. (Albeit we may be a little Navy heavy between him and Leanne Davis and are seeking applications from jarheads.)


Helen Tompkins / Houston, TX
Helen Tompkins

A gifted lightweight, Helen won a silver in the LWT women’s 4X at the 2013 world championships and is focused on training for the 2016 games. She has also participated in the U23 world championships and CanAmMex regattas. She works with social media and reports from the front at Sparks. A Texan, which is in itself unusual in the national team rowing community (Ryan Sparks is also a Texan, but he never rowed on the national team!), Helen majored in studio art at the University of Virginia and is also an artist whose mediums include painting and sculpture; trust us when we say this is also somewhat unique in the national team rowing community – and very cool, as far as we’re concerned.


Jon Greer / Seattle, WA
Jon Greer

Jon Greer has trained at every elite and national team center on the west coast. He rowed in Seattle for the late Emil Kossev at the Pocock rowing center before transferring to make a drive for the Olympics under current U.S. Men’s Olympic coach Tim McLaren at the California Rowing Club. A passionate student of the sport, his knowledge of technique and physiology is both academic as well as experiential. Jon handles search engine optimization and marketing at Sparks.