The Covin family is a family of boat drivers.
Dave Covin started his coxing career as a walk on at Princeton University in the late-1980's. He quickly became the varsity coxswain and fell in love with the sport. Little did he know when his freshman friends were dragging him to Princeton's gothic boathouse that he would one day be passing the sport onto his daughter.
Personality and tenacity play such key roles in who becomes a coxswain. Physique is just a small factor in determining who becomes – and stays – a coxswain. Unlike rowing, coxing doesn't provide a workout, doesn't have a performance barometer, and can often be subjective. Passing on a love for coxing is different from simply passing on physical traits from parent to child; coxing is a weird and wonderful part of the sport of rowing, and it's not for the faint of heart.
But for the Covin family, coxing runs through their blood. Sara, the middle child, gave up her days as a volleyball player last fall to focus on coxing as her primary sport, following in the footsteps of her father and her older brother (who coxed for a few years before hitting a growth spurt). Their youngest brother Jack has also taken up the seat in the stern in the Oakland Strokes middle school program.
Although her siblings have also taken up coxing, Sara and Dave were in the spotlight this weekend at the San Diego Crew Classic as both raced over the weekend. Sara drove the Oakland Strokes Novice 8 to a second-place finish on Sunday, and her dad coxed the FatCat (Princeton) Alumni boat to a win on Saturday. For both Covin coxswains, it was a weekend of great racing.
Sara, who is in her first year of coxing says she never felt pressure from her dad to take up the sport.
"He really let me find my place and didn't make it about him," Sara said. "He's let me find my own path and make my mistakes; that way I'll know I've earned my spot and I won't feel like I got it because my dad is a coxswain. He taught me everything I know."
Dave is part mentor, part proud dad, part teammate to his daughter Sara.
"Rowing is all about family because your teammates are your family," he said. "I just didn't realize it would be my actual family."
The two watched one another race this weekend and had, in typical parent-child fashion, very different feelings when they watched their kin drive down the course.
Dave was beaming when he spoke about watching his daughter and her teammates.
"I usually get more nervous for her races than my races," he said. "I just feel proud like all the parents do. It's a very special sport in not only the racing that they do but the bonds they form and what they learn beyond the race."
Sara on the other hand?
"I was watching dad's line," she said. "I was going to give him so much crap if he didn't have a straight line."
In addition to being a father-daughter coxing combo, the Covins have a little outside help to mentor Sara as she blossoms into a seasoned coxswain. For a number of years, the Covins acted as a host family for women training at the Princeton Training Center. One of their favorites? Olympic gold medalist, coxswain Katelin (Snyder) Guregian, who drove the US Women's 8+ to their 2016 victory. After Katelin lived with the Covin family for a few months, she and Sara formed a bond that lasts to this day – Sara will often FaceTime with her gold medal mentor to get tips on how to become a better coxswain.
"Katelin has just been really cool," Sara said. "I look up to her so much. It's just so nice to have someone to talk to. I ask her about race plans or just practice situations, like docking with wind. Simple questions but since she's so experienced that she's able to explain it in different ways."
But despite having such an accomplished Olympian mentor, it's dad who Sara gets to look up to every day, even if he keeps some secrets.
"He won't let me listen to any of his race recordings," she said.
Though the two of them haven't yet lined up next to each other at the start line, it's only a matter of time before the father-daughter duo becomes a dual. And a what a duel it would be. When asked how it would go, Dave responds, "She'd probably beat me."
Without missing a beat, Sara counters, "That's very cordial. I think I'd hear him dropping f-bombs over in the other lane. I would do everything I could to beat him. Even if that meant starting the sprint at 1000. We're definitely competitive."