Interview with Ben Leuvelink

by James Burraston

I recently had the opportunity to chat with one of Dharma Voyage’s youth rowers, the winner of the singles at the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Snow Row.  Following is the transcript of our interview.

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James: How did you first get interested in rowing?

Ben: When I first heard about it, it was kind of like a rumor at school that there was going to be a rowing team. This was last February, there was the rumor. I heard about the rowing organization prior to that. I had wanted to do it, but I never really got to. I saw Ben Booth rowing the in the river before, but didn’t know that it was him at the time or think much about it. I’ve been on the water all my life; I’ve always been on the water. So when I came to school and I heard about it and that it was a sport at the school that would be more like something I would like or that I would be good at. And that’s how I got into it. I’ve loved it ever since.

J: What racing have you done with the team?

B: We’ve done two prior races. The first time was in May at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and we just recently did the Head of the Weir in October. We won that race as a team.

J: What inspired you to try the single in the Snow Row?

B: I think it was last June or July, Ben was telling us about it one day while we were rowing, and I really took an interest in it. I went down one day when we had a river day here. I was there with one of the other kids from the rowing team and we were handling the booth, and Ben brought the single down and I rode that around for a little bit, just getting used to it and then I think it was about November when Ben came back from his championship race in Peru that I started rowing the single. I basically started rowing it in December.

J: You’ve only been training for a couple of months.

B: One thing about that, I’ve had amazing coaching. He [Ben Booth] is one of the best rowers in the United States. He’s representing U.S. Rowing and different things so . . . if it weren’t for Ben I wouldn’t be nearly as good as I am.

J: What is your training regimen like?

B: Since I’d be rowing out at the head, I would train  every other week because of tide reasons.  When the water is up, I’ll go out to Ben Booth’s house and use this dolly to take the boat across the street every day, back and forth, and row up the river, probably about two miles up and then two miles back.  So I’d row every practice about 4 miles. I just kept doing that for about two months, getting used to everything by going through it. It came about in February that I started rowing for times and speed. I’d go and I would time myself. At first I was getting about 40 minutes, and then maybe 38. I would always drop maybe about a minute every single time. That’s how I would train. I would push myself to get a faster time. I’d be looking at my watch and notice how far away I was and I had an understanding of how long it would take me to row from where I was. So I would really push myself to get a faster time than I did before.

I also do a lot of bike riding, and I think that helps a lot. I ride some long distances, not just casually.  It helps to keep me in shape.

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J: Tell me about the actual day of the race.

B: I had a lot of confidence, really. I was thinking before the race, “I’ve got this.” It was exciting because there were boats everywhere and you see people everywhere. I actually practiced maybe about a half an hour before the race.   I went out and practiced for maybe 10 minutes, because I saw a bunch of other guys doing it. It was fun.

We had the boats set up and everything. It was a Le Mans start so you had to run and get into the boat. I only practiced it once before and I thought I had it down, but I kind of failed. I got in, but it took me longer and everyone had started to go out before I really got off the beach. I caught up to them. They had probably been rowing for about two minutes, and after I got in I caught up to them and had passed them within the first five or ten minutes of the race. When I got past them, I was looking behind me.   I was right in with the doubles; I’d gotten in front of a lot of doubles. I was looking behind me and looking in front of me and I couldn’t find any singles. I was looking for them and I couldn’t see any of them, and I kept going. There was this turn where we go around an island, and right when I was there I kept looking and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me and said to myself, “I’ve got this.” So I kept sculling. I actually went probably double the strength I should have for most of the race. I wasn’t really pacing myself like I should have, but I went all out. I didn’t really feel the effects of the race towards the end. I didn’t feel like I was very tired really, but the day after it hit me and I couldn’t do much.

“There’s a difference between traditional rowers and rockets, and these two are fine examples of rockets.”

 

J: What was it like coming in at the finish?

B: It was kind of weird because I was coming in with some doubles and by then the six-persons caught up and everything, ‘cause those things are fast, and especially the surf skis started coming by.   If you don’t know what they are, they are really long boats, and those things are insanely fast. I was right in with the pack of six-oared and surf skis coming right in where the line was and I couldn’t tell if I had passed the line or not. I thought the finish line was closer towards the beach, so I went by the finish line and everything and kept going for a little bit. Then I stopped, then I kept going and I thought, “Wait, am I passed the finish line yet?” They blew the horn, but I wasn’t sure so I put my hand up and asked if they were talking about me. So, I just went all the way in to the beach. I think Ben was yelling at me that I had already crossed the finish line. I crossed the finish line and I didn’t even know it.

J: What was your time?

B: 40 minutes and 39 seconds. The second place time was 43 minutes and 35 seconds.

There were 5 other rowers and the person in last place was 15 minutes after my time, so I beat them by a lot. That was good because if you think about it I’ve been rowing singles for three months and these guys are 30 or 50 years old and have been rowing a lot longer than that. For me to go in my first race and beat them that well, it was shocking. It felt good. Hopefully I can do the same with the Essex River race.

At the awards ceremony I was compared to the younger version of Ben Booth. The guy used to be involved when Ben was younger, and he used to race and beat everyone when he was my age. It was good to be compared to him. The guy said, “There’s a difference between traditional rowers and rockets, and these two are fine examples of rockets.”

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J: Tell me a little bit about the Essex River Race.

B: It’s a 5.5 mile race in the Essex River, which is near Gloucester. That’s coming up May 21st. I have back-to-back races because I have the Essex River Race, and then the week after we’re going back to Vermont to race with the team.

J: What would you like people to know about what your rowing experience has been like?

B: It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s been paying off in the end. There’s still more to come, and it’s really fun. It’s really not what you expect. You can think about it, but it’s really different. It’s a lot more fun. People think we’re out there hauling away all day, but everyone, we’re in the team, we’re having fun, we go out to islands and around the river. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not what you’d expect.

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