Why Coxswains Should Utilize Their Skills in Every Boat

By Marcus McElhenney | March 8, 2013

Last week I was asked to volunteer driving launches for Oakland Strokes at a regatta they were throwing. Heck yeah I wanna do that. The best part of it was when someone said to me, “You’re an Olympic medalist, isn’t this a little below you?!” I could not help but laugh at the quasi back-handed compliment. Then I simply pointed out that the person running the finish line was two time Olympic Champion, Kay Worthington, and half of the other volunteers were former National Team members and DI rowers for Cal.

What I loved about this event is that is reminded me about how so many people reach the highest level of our sport and why they have had so much success. The best people in our sport, and coxswains in particular, keep moving up by taking advantage of every single opportunity offered to them. My whole entire career has been shaped by this. When I was in high school, I filled in for other coxswains when I knew I was not going to get the boat for the big race. I ended up learning a ton and had a great time doing it because there was no pressure to perform. So I got along well with the athletes and this in turn helped me learn even more. Especially because they thought I was doing them a favor and they wanted to return it. Well they did.

This followed me into my college rowing career. As a frosh I was asked to help out the varsity knowing that I would not get the varsity boat or the freshmen boat. But I wanted to be in an environment where I would get the benefits of all the experience of the older guys. I did not race my freshmen fall, but it paid off and almost by accident I made the varsity 8 for spring season. My goal was just to learn as much as I could, I was not even worried or trying to get the top boat. And because of that I was able to surpass the current varsity coxswains.

A few months later, while working as a lifeguard on the Jersey shore, I get a call because the US team just needed a coxswain to fill out a boat for a few days. It was supposed to be a long weekend. It turned into a couple of weeks and again I learned so much. There was no chance of making a boat, but I did not care. I just wanted to fill in, take advantage of the opportunity and learn. The athletes and coaches were super helpful and believe me, I was terrible at that time. But they worked with me because they knew I was just there to help them out and learn. It was a great few weeks and at the end I thought my days with the national team were over.

About six weeks later, I get a call from the National Team coach with another opportunity. “Would I be willing to take some time out of my sophomore fall season to race the US eight at the Head of the Ohio?” Duh, next question…YES! We beat the Canadians by a bow ball and my fate with the National Team was sealed.

What does this mean for the average coxswain? Whenever you get the opportunity to get into a boat and cox…do it! If you get a chance to just hang out with super seasoned rowers…do it! If someone offers you the chance to ‘volunteer’ at a regatta…do it! You really never know how much you are going to learn. You have no idea who you might encounter and how they will help you improve and get better. You will see me trying to get into every boat humanly possible at the Crew Classic this April. I hope to see you there doing the same!


Follow Marcus on Twitter @USOlympicCox