This week row2k continues our 2024 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Cornell lightweight rower Connor Eaton. We chat with him on choosing Cornell, Marine Corps ROTC, and more.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Connor Eaton - I started rowing my freshman year at my high school, the American School in London. My older brother rowed at St. Paul's School in Hammersmith and later at Oxford and seeing his success encouraged me to give the whole rowing thing a try. When I was 16, I moved to Tideway Scullers in Chiswick on the Thames, and it was there that I spent my last two years in their performance Junior Men’s programs having some success at the national level and competing at Henley Royal Regatta as a senior.
row2k - How did you decide to attend Cornell?
Connor Eaton - It was really quite a last-minute decision. For most of my high school career, I had been pretty set on attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis given my aspiration to commission into the Marine Corps. During the fall of my senior year however, I kind of had this revelation that I didn’t really want to forgo all the regular American college experiences that you sacrifice at an institution like the Academy. In a frenzy, I decided to look for a great school outside of the city with a great ROTC program, leading me to Cornell. I haven’t really looked back since and I’m blessed to be here!
row2k - You are part of the Navy ROTC program at Cornell, can you tell us about that and why you opted for that track?
Connor Eaton - I have always wanted to serve in the Marine Corps. I grew up captivated by all the seminal Marine War Memoirs like With the Old Breed and Helmet For My Pillow and was determined to be part of such an illustrious organization when I could. However, like a lot of young people interested in military service, I wasn’t really aware of the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) pipeline until I did some independent research during my senior year of high school. The program provides almost all of the same benefits of a service academy (full-tuition scholarship, a pathway to a military commission, summer training opportunities etc.) while also allowing participation in normal college activities, from Greek-life to Varsity Sports and everything in between. After reading about it on the internet and speaking to the Marine Officer Instructor at Cornell, I knew it was the path for me and moved forward with a scholarship application.
row2k - How do you balance your time between school, rowing, and ROTC?
Connor Eaton - It was really difficult at first. The team demands wholehearted commitment, training twice a day during the week and occupying a lot of time. On top of this, my ROTC commitments require three days a week of Physical Training Sessions on top of Leadership and Marine Corps organizational classes during the semester as well as field exercises and month-long summer training commitments. It can be difficult to maintain the standard across all of these endeavors but my ability to do so relies on great mentors and the understanding of our coaching staff and my Marine Officer Instructor at Cornell.
I am very lucky that I receive excusal from ROTC events which conflict with the rowing season but I am still expected to maintain the physical and technical excellence demanded by the Marine Corps. Often times I’ll do extra running and calisthenics on top of rowing practice to remain conditioned for our physical fitness test that we are scored on twice every semester (4 minute plank, max pull-ups, and a 3 mile run) and regularly meet with my advisor to fill in the gaps. It can be done but requires ambivalence to early mornings and a commitment to the end-goal, an IRA championship and a commission as a Marine officer.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Connor Eaton - I love that there’s no easy way to succeed. Behind every championship crew, even ones with physiological behemoths, there’s months and often years of hard work, ups-and-downs and millions of training meters. It’s one of the few sports where the process almost supersedes the outcome and you learn so much about how tough a person can be from these collegiate training programs. For me, as an aspiring Marine Officer, I learn so many lessons each day about the “grin and bear it” mindset; just showing up putting in the hard work and above all, never quitting.
Officers are expected to “Ductus Exemplo” requiring a patina of stoicism and competence even when the road is tough. I think I’ve learned so much about this virtue throughout my seasons on the team, whether it’s the cutting to make weight or the grueling ergs and water workouts, you have to show up ready to fight for success whatever the circumstance.
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring season?
Connor Eaton - This season has been really promising for our team this year. It was our coach’s first fall season with the reins and we saw a lot of success resulting from his training program and determined sense of direction. From some great performances at the Head of the Charles (a highlight for me being winning in the lightweight 4+) to a dominant showing at the Princeton Chase across all boat classes, we know we have all the right tools to put out a great regular season. My goals are the same as everyone on our team: win an Eastern Sprints gold medal in whatever boat I find myself and ultimately vie for a lightweight IRA title in the Spring.
row2k - What are you studying at Cornell and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Connor Eaton - I’m a double major studying Economics and History. One of the best parts of the American liberal arts model is you can make whatever combination of academic fields your speciality if you’re willing to put in the work and take all the requisite classes, something I have found really rewarding thus far. After completion of my degree and all Marine Corps commissioning requirements, I’ll hopefully commission as an active duty second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and check-in to The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia for 6 months of training and evaluation before receiving my job (Military Occupational Specialty). I am currently really keen on pursuing a career in the infantry but am just really excited to see what happens down the line. You don’t ever really know what your job in the Marine Corps is going to be until you reach that juncture several months after commissioning so it’s something of an adventure!