Rowing Upstream against a Current

By Alex Sorce –

It was one of those simple walks.

You know the ones – the ones that can change the course of your life.

The breeze was just lifting on a bright warm day, along the Chester River, when Penn Manor senior Josh Morgan strolled along the boathouse with the rowing coach from Washington College, John Leekley.
Penn Manor senior Josh Morgan is excited to row for Washington College.

Morgan remembers how crystalline the water was and, at the same time, intensely reflecting the sun’s rays making it both beautiful and painful to look at.

Morgan had never expected this, never expected he would have a conversation with a college rowing coach.

He had already decided he wanted to attend the small liberal arts school in Maryland.  He knew it as soon as he walked onto the campus. But during his visit there with college admissions counselors his life, as he planned it, took an interesting turn.

As Morgan was finished with his tour of the college, the head coach from the school’s rowing team – Leekley – came up to him, introduced himself and asked Morgan if he wouldn’t mind taking a walk so they could chat and check out the boats down by the river.

Leekley guided Morgan along the Chester River where the rowing team typically practiced. Morgan recalled being a little confused since he had not rowed a day in his life and couldn’t quite figure out why Leekley wanted this chat.

But Leekley had guided Morgan to the river for a special purposed – to see if he was interested in joining the rowing team.

It didn’t seem to matter to the coach that Morgan had no experience with rowing – at all.

Leekley was very interested in Morgan.

“We look for guys like Josh, who are athletes and want to try a new sport, so when he came to visit we were excited that he’s looking to come to school here,” said Leekly before adding, “and try rowing.”

Morgan exactly recalls Leekley saying he, “would love to have him row.”

It didn’t matter that he didn’t have experience.

“Over half of all rowers in college don’t row before they come to college, so Josh will fit in with a group of guys just like him,” said Leekley. “Part of our program involves teaching guys like Josh who have no prior experience how to row, and they’ll race in events their freshmen year against other first-year rowers.”

It’s not hard to imagine Morgan as a rower.  Four years of wrestling under coach Steve Hess at Penn Manor, strengthened his body and his mind.

“(It’s) tremendous an athlete will try something new at a high level of competition, it shows a lot of grit, determination, and character,” said Hess.

“As a wrestler, Josh has learned how to push himself to the limits of his physical ability, said Leekley. “Rowing, like wrestling, is a total body sport that demands high levels of endurance and mental discipline.”

That is the perfect kind of athlete that Leekly wants, hard-working and dedicated, to benefit the team.

“Wrestling has definitely taught me discipline and work ethic, it has helped me become stronger both mentally and physically,” said Morgan.

To prepare during the off season, Morgan has to gain about 12 pounds by September. The team doesn’t have enough guys to fill a lightweight boat and Morgan has to gain weight in order to row.

To Morgan this is the complete opposite of what he is used to, skipping meals, watching his water intake, practicing with a sweat shirt on, all done to cut weight and make his class for wrestling.

“I’m looking forward to having a new experience, I hope to get strong and get some sort of consistent exercise,” said Morgan.

Although Morgan has not rowed before, he has caught the excitement about his new sport and the experiences that await him in the coming years.

“Washington College is a strong liberal arts school, it’s surrounded by the Chester River and close to the Chesapeake bay, it would be a good location to further my studies and social life… I love being in and around the water, that’s where I can relax,” said Morgan.

“I’ve never rowed a day in my life… I think it would be fun to have a sport where you’re on a boat in the water. To me it seems more enjoyable and gratifying than other sports,” said Morgan.

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