Andrew Campbell, Jr. is not the kind of athlete that would walk away from a challenge, even if it meant being in a battle with guys much bigger.
So even if there was no place in the Olympic schedule for a lightweight to compete, the 2016 Olympian and multiple national team athlete would have raced with heavyweights, or at least he would have tried, he said.
"Yeah, I would have," Campbell said recently. "If the lightweight double, or lightweight events, were not available on the Olympic level, I would have tried the heavyweights."
Fortunately for Campbell, he did not have to make that choice. And if he decides not to try for the 2020 Olympics, or to row another lightweight elite event, his career as a lightweight has been fulfilling to the point that he is grateful the weight category exists.
"I, a little bit, owe my rowing career to the lightweight double," Campbell said, "because as a high school sophomore, I wasn't that big. I was maybe in the high 140s weight-wise. Having that event got me into a position where I got a look from the head coach of our high school team. They saw that this was something we could potentially medal in," he said.
For Campbell, jumping right into a career as a lightweight allowed him to compete at the highest levels of the sport, from high school, through college at Harvard University and onto the national team, where he rowed in the men's lightweight double final in Rio.
But as he points out, not being as big as his classmate would not have stopped him from trying to row scholastically. There are plenty of undersized rowers who earned seats in their school's top varsity eights, including those crews that have gone to win national championships.
Christine Cavallo setting the lightweight indoor record
Christine Cavallo is one such athlete. In high school, Cavallo rowed in the Orlando Area Rowing Society open weight varsity eight. She rowed in the junior women's pair on the US Junior National team at the World Junior Rowing Championships in 2012 and 2013. Her silver medal performance in 2012 was the first medal won at a junior worlds for the US in the event.
Cavallo went on to row on the lightweight team at Stanford University, where she helped lead her team to three consecutive national lightweight championships. And just last month, Cavallo, who has her sights set on an attempt on the senior national team this summer and possibly a 2020 Olympic bid, set a new world indoor record for open lightweight women at the World Rowing Indoor Championships in Alexandria, Virginia.
At a time when the safety and existence of lightweight junior rowing is under serious discussion and some elite lightweight rowing events have been eliminated from the World Championship and Olympic schedule, both Campbell and Cavallo said they believe lightweight collegiate rowing could survive the pressure from the junior and elite levels.
"I would say that, honestly, collegiate lightweight rowing is as strong as ever, that it is one of the bastions of lightweight rowing that I don't see going anywhere," Campbell said. "And that is largely because the alumni base is so strong and enthusiastic. "A lot of these programs are endowed, and have endowed coaching positions, including Harvard. From that perspective, I really don't see it going anywhere. I don't think the athletic departments want to mess with it.
"It's generally a highly inclusive sports team relative to the other varsity athletic programs on these campuses, and they do still take and encourage walk-ons, which is a huge part of the culture at Harvard, and I know in the rest of the league. I think people, too, still get excited to see the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Regatta. That's one of the best shows in rowing.
"I don't think the loss of the men's lightweight four in the Olympics is going to have a huge impact on the size of Sprints League lightweight teams," Campbell said. "I think most of those guys are there to be a part of a positive sporting environment and are going to compete against other Ivy League schools. And that's enough for most people."
Cavallo agreed, and added she felt that eliminating junior lightweight rowing would lessen opportunities for athletes her size.
"I've actually thought a lot about this," she said. "I think rowing lightweight in high school gives high schoolers a foot in the door for people who would otherwise be turned away, because they assume there's no opportunity for them.
"I had to claw my way to get to the Junior National team." Cavallo said. "It wasn't until my junior year, where I was pretty much in the middle of the pack of the group trying for the Junior National team. They finally said, okay, let's see what you can do. I had to beat down the door before I could even get a shot," she said.
In high school and at the junior national team level, Cavallo said she had to compete against girls who were mostly taller and bigger than she was. "That's who I put myself up against, that's who I pushed myself against.
"As far as college goes, it is a hugely competitive field. You have every single person clocking in at the same weight," she said. "That, in theory, should be an even playing field, and winning comes down to just pure grit.
"If lightweight rowing doesn't exist at a senior level anymore, collegiate rowing still gives girls who are under 6 feet, who are under 5'10, under 5'8, under 5'5 - all those bench markers that open weight teams have told me don't apply to me - those women or men in their respective height category will, for sure, still have that opportunity to be on a D1 collegiate sports team, which I would not trade for anything," Cavallo said.