Concord Crew regains momentum after surviving the pandemic

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  • Concord High School student Neil Valle helps put the boat in the water on the first day of practice Tuesday.

  • Concord Crew head coach Steve Garside heads out from the boathouse to fix one of the floatation devices on the Merrimack River on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • TOP: Giselle Spalding carries out oars on Tuesday for the first day of practice on the Merrimack River.

  • Concord Crew head coach Steve Garside helps move some of the spottin boats on the Merrimack River on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Giselle Spalding gets ready to carry one of the two girls’ boats on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day of practice on the Merrimack River. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Giselle Spalding hat says it all on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day of practice on the Merrimack River. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The two Concord Crew girls’ boats on the Merrimack River on the first day of practice on the water on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Giselle Spalding gets ready to push off on one of the two girls’ boats on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day of practice on the Merrimack River. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew boats start on the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Travis Garside helps bring their boat to the water during the first Concord Crew practice at the docks near Everett Arena on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day on the water. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School student Neil Valle helps put their boat in the water on the first day of practice on the water on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Travis Garside helps bring their boat to the water during the first Concord Crew practice at the docks near Everett Arena on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day on the water. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew get ready to put their boat the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord boys crew boats get ready to put their boat the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord Crew rowers prep their sculls on Saturday morning at the boathouse opening.  Brackett Lyons / Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord boys crew boats get ready to put their boat the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Travis Garside runs with his oars during the first Concord Crew practice at the docks near Everett Arena on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 on the first day on the water. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew shells makes its way down the Merrimack River with the Concord skyline beyond on Tuesday evening, the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew boats make their way down the Merrimack River with the Concord skyline in the backround on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord boys crew boats get ready to put their boat the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew boats make their way down the Merrimack River with the Concord skyline in the backround on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • One of the two Concord girls crew boats make their way down the Merrimack River on Tuesday evening, April 5, 2022 on the first time on the water for the season. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/6/2022 6:51:54 PM

The crisp sound of oars tugging at the water, the chant of coxswains keeping rowers in unison, and the sight of the State House dome rising above the Merrimack River have returned for Concord Crew athletes.

After a two year absence due to the COVID pandemic, a small group of teenagers returned to the boat house early Saturday morning for the start of the spring crew season. Some still groggy with sleep in their eyes, they rigged their sleek white boats and began to assemble a dock. The morning came with a mix of hard work and relief.

“I am very excited for the season,” said Neil Valle, a sophomore at Concord High. “I feel like everything’s going to be a lot more open and we can return to some sort of normalcy.”

Normalcy has been sorely lacking these past two years. All Concord Crew could do at the height of the pandemic was dry land workouts on rowing machines. Now the team, dressed in a combination of pajamas, sweats and Concord Crew apparel, was back in boats.

As head coach Steve Garside marshaled his team the buzz was palpable. The team would once more heave boats onto their shoulders and carry them down the banks of the river together. Oars would be locked in to riggers. Coxswains and rowers would become a unified force moving across the river with wind in their faces and water underneath. 

The pandemic did a number on Concord Crew. The club sport has always relied on its participating families to fund operations. And crew is not a cheap sport. An eight-man sweep, the standard boat for most of the races you’ll see, can cost between $15,000 and $30,000. That doesn’t include the cost of boat maintenance, rent, tournament fees and more. 

The more rowers that participate each year, the more those costs are spread around to keep Concord Crew afloat. On top of keeping the team grounded on dry land, the pandemic made it close to impossible for Concord Crew to recruit. The club saw a slide in members before the pandemic even began but an even steeper decline once the coronavirus took hold. 

“I mean six years ago, we were at 80 to 90 kids,” said Concord Crew head coach Steve Garside. “And we usually hovered around the 75 mark. But in the last two years, we’ve been down to about 55 to 62. It's a bit of a struggle only because we've lost access to schools with COVID. You just can’t go into a school and recruit and be a part of their clubs and their after-school meetings and stuff. It’s tougher to get in. So it's just tougher to reach kids at this point, through that venue, like we used to.”

Valle joined Concord Crew just before the pandemic hit.  

“I'd say the numbers of novice rowers has been pretty stagnant,” the sophomore said. “I've noticed that not many novices are getting into the program. We all like to be able to like go to schools and recruit and show off what we're all about.”  

Garside said that the club did the best it could to make up for the loss of traditional recruiting and is hoping a new season of competition and camaraderie will attract new athletes. 

“Social media, online, and there's just word of mouth right now. The kids in the program talk to their friends and parents talking to other parents and kids that are looking for something to do. So it's really it's kind of more of community outreach at this point than it used to be,” said Garside. 

One positive is that the club has thus far been able to keep membership rates steady despite the pandemic’s impact on the economy. 

“It's probably one of the cheaper programs throughout New England be quite honest,” Garside said. “And we do a lot to raise money for scholarship money for the kids to assist families that are struggling or need help paying for their kid to come. So with that, I haven't noticed a change as much. Just more the attendance.”

Chris Graham is the parent liaison for Concord Crew and saw firsthand in her own children how devastating the pandemic was to the sport and those who compete in it. Her son Gavin was a senior team captain and lost his final season to the pandemic. Her daughter Mathea is a senior this year and lost the middle chunk of her rowing career. 

“For crew, COVID stopped everything in March 2020, except home workouts,” said Graham. “The captains and the coaches were rallying rowers to keep focus on erging at home and core workouts, concocting motivating scoring systems in hopes all of this was a temporary thing and that some of the season would be salvaged. About three weeks into the ‘season’ it became more apparent the season was likely off. It was a challenging time.”

Now Concord Crew is looking forward to the most normal season since 2019, the feelings of hope and joy have returned to the Merrimack River. 

“We can actually go row in the water, which is exciting,” said Valle squinting into the rising sun. “It's definitely back now.”




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