This week's row2k Interview is with Wesleyan sophomore rower Andrew Daggon, who walked on the Cardinals rowing team following a five year stint in the United States Army.
row2k - Prior to enrolling in college, you served in the Army. How did you decide to serve and what was your role within the Army?
Andrew Daggon - I served for five years in the US Army, initially as an infantry paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and later, after graduating from the Arabic Language course at the Defense Language Institute, as an Arabic Language Instructor.
Although I thought about joining the military after high school, following graduation I was working full time as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing instructor and had the opportunity to pursue a professional fighting career. I ended up heading to Thailand where I lived and trained for several months at a Muay Thai kickboxing training camp, just training and fighting full time. It was a great experience and I am happy to have had the chance to pursue my first passion, but over time I began thinking about joining the military once again as a way to keep progressing forward, gain experience, and pay for college in the future.
I joined as a Special Forces recruit, and after several months of Basic Training, Infantry School, Airborne School, and Special Forces Assessment and Selection, I was 'selected' as a successful candidate and entered into the Special Forces training pipeline. Unfortunately, after nearly a year into training, I sustained an injury and was medically reassigned to the 82nd Airborne division, where I ended up serving for about two years as an infantry paratrooper. As I mentioned before, I later attended the language school and even had the pleasure of going overseas to Morocco for additional language training. After my five-year contract was up I was honorably discharged.
row2k - Do you have any lasting impressions from your time serving?
Andrew Daggon - The whole experience gave me a lot of perspective, which has been incredibly helpful now that I am an undergrad and navigating a new set of challenges. Nothing becomes easier necessarily, but I think it is nice to be able to lean on my experience, take a step back, and recognize how hard some things can be. Having this perspective also keeps me focused on the bigger picture of what I am doing in school and why it is important.
The other part that has stuck with me from my time in the military is of course the lifelong friends I have made. It is hard to replicate the kind of camaraderie you get from suffering next to someone day in and day out. It isn't glamorous, but one lasting memory I have is sitting in a hole with one of my best friends in the August heat of Louisiana for thirty days straight. That is the sort of thing that can make those early morning, ice-cold crew practices a little more bearable.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing and how did you find your way to Wesleyan?
Andrew Daggon - I applied to Wesleyan through the Posse Foundation's Veteran Scholar program, which helps veterans gain access to elite universities and sends cohorts of ten together to each of their partner schools. It helps to have a built-in support structure of veterans when you first get to campus, but after that it becomes really easy to spread out and each find your own niches.
Wesleyan has been great and there were really three things that initially drew me to it over the other partner colleges, Dartmouth and Vassar. The first is the campus housing situation; being married and having two kids is pretty atypical of a Wesleyan student, but since the school owns all of the houses surrounding the campus I am actually able to live in one with my family and still get the whole undergrad experience. The second thing I like that Wesleyan offers is their world-class Philosophy-Politics-Economics program, referred to as the College of Social Studies. It is an interdisciplinary degree that involves reading hundreds of pages and writing multiple essays every week, and so far it has been great.
Finally, believe it or not, the third thing that drew me to Wesleyan was my desire to play a varsity sport. I was in decent shape from the military and was a good athlete in high school, so I thought playing a sport would be the best way I could really participate on campus and have the full college experience. I remembered reading that crew had a strong walk-on culture and it seemed like a great balance between skill and physicality. For example, you can't just decide one day to play golf in college if you've never played. No matter how good of shape you are in, you just don't have the skills. With crew, if you work hard and are consistently putting in time on the erg and in the boat, you are rewarded.
I had a Concept 2 erg in my garage, so I started looking up times I needed to hit and started training.
Andrew with wife Julieanne, and kids Presley and Carson
row2k - You have a family, how do you balance your time between school, rowing, and family?
Andrew Daggon - It has been incredibly tough to balance all of those things. I don't really have much free time and I probably don't sleep as much as I should. Especially with my chosen major, which is notoriously time intensive, I would be lying to say that it has been easy. But I think anything is doable if you are disciplined enough and can just stay focused. Eventually, everything falls into a precarious routine, but nothing is impossible.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Andrew Daggon - Rowing has to be one of the purest sports out there. By that I mean that everyone is there because they just really enjoy it. There is really no other reason. Every day is physically exhausting and there is no fanfare, but it all becomes worth it on race day.
row2k - How has this season gone, and what are your goals for the spring?
Andrew Daggon - The season has gone well so far, and our training is looking really solid. I had the goal coming into the season to race at the Head of the Charles and it was an amazing experience. We have a really young team too, so I am very excited for all of us to be moving forward together. As always, it is one day at a time and one race at a time.
row2k - What are you studying at Wesleyan and do you have any plans yet for after college?
Andrew Daggon - I am studying the program mentioned earlier based on the Oxford Philosophy, Politics, Economics program. I don't have any concrete plans set for after graduation, but last summer I interned at Booz Allen in their consulting practice and this upcoming summer I am interning at the Wesleyan Investment Office that manages our endowment. Ultimately, I hope to end up in an investment role somewhere after graduation.