row2k's collegiate preview continues this week, with an interview with Yale senior Antonio Sirianni. Sirianni raced his first race in the Bulldog Varsity this past fall, but his path to Yale's top boat hasn't been the typical road. Antonio began his collegiate rowing career on Yale's Lightweight squad and has gradually worked his way up from the Lightweight 2F to the Heavyweight V8.
row2k - You had a pretty successful four years of rowing in high school, why did you choose to row at Yale?
Antonio Sirianni - Yale is one of the best schools, perhaps the best, in the country, and when I was looking at colleges they were defending National Champions in the Lightweight 8+. So, when I received a letter from their coaches I was very interested. After touring campuses the summer before my senior year, I was able to narrow my choice down to Yale and one other school. I went on official visits to both, and I really liked the guys and coaches at both programs, but for some reason that I can't put my finger on, I felt more comfortable at Yale.
row2k - Your freshman year you raced in the Lightweight 2F, what are your thoughts on that year?
Antonio Sirianni - Not making the Lightweight 1F was obviously pretty disappointing. My erg scores were usually near or at the top of my class, but my rowing stroke was (and still is) pretty rough around the edges. With 11 other recruits/experienced walk-ons in my class, there wasn't really a need to accommodate sloppy rowing in the 1F, so I was put in the 2F. By the time my stroke was starting to improve the 1F had championship-level speed that no one would or should have messed with, and indeed, they did go on to win the Eastern Sprints that year. I managed to have a pretty good time rowing with the 2F (or "too fast"), and my rowing certainly improved that year, so despite the disappointment I feel like I still took some good things away from freshman year.
row2k - Following your first year on the Lightweight team, you choose to switch and row heavyweight? What was the impetus for this switch?
Antonio Sirianni - This was the most difficult decision I've ever made. My weight started to become an issue a few months after I was accepted to row lightweight at Yale. My weight shot up after my last race as a high school lightweight at the end of senior year, and a few of my coaches at home encouraged me to move up. After winning the light 8+ at Cincinatti with Canisius that year I decided that winning as a lightweight would probably feel a lot better than not making a boat as a heavyweight. So I decided to get back down.
Unfortunately, I probably spent more time stressing about weight than worrying about my actual rowing or academics my freshman year. I also ended up disproving my hypothesis that I would be more competitive as a lightweight than a heavyweight. My weight shot up quite a bit right after Eastern Sprints in '07. I found a scale at our post-sprints party, and through some feat of gluttony that I don't fully understand I ended up weighing-in at a very bloated 185. After a week of Buffalo wings, pizza and nutella I found myself at just under 195. I spent that summer deciding what to do for the upcoming season. Looking at my weight, the results of a body-fat analysis, and the limited success I saw freshman year, I realized that I was not going to be an effective rower at 160 pounds, regardless of the competition. I felt bad leaving the Y150 (and still do), but my coaches and teammates were (and still are) very supportive of me.
row2k - What do you think are some of the primary differences between rowing heavyweight and lightweight at the collegiate level?
Antonio Sirianni - Well, in one league you have to weigh under 160 pounds, and in the other you don't. Otherwise, the differences are subtle, and it's hard for me to distinguish which differences are between heavyweight and lightweight collegiate rowing, and which differences are between Andy Card and John Pescatore. I'd say you can get away with a little more training volume on a heavyweight team because you don't have to worry about stimulating your appetite or working-out on a limited caloric intake. You also don't have to worry about gaining weight from lifting. Lightweights train to make themselves perfect and flawless rowers at a set weight. They need to be strong, but can't expect to win a race with pure muscle. The racing is almost always really close and unpredictable; some joke that it's like "throwing sticks down a river." Heavyweights just find speed however they can. They can find speed by bulking up and gaining strength, or by slimming down and being more weight-efficient. Anything goes, as long as it makes you fast.
row2k - This past fall you were in Yale's heavyweight Champ 8 at the Head of the Charles, was that your first race in the V8? Any interesting stories from the regatta?
Antonio Sirianni - My first race in the V8 was the week before the Charles at the Head of the Housatonic, which was probably a better race for us. The Head of the Charles was a lot of fun. I'm a Buffalo guy, so I think snow makes just about anything more fun, especially racing. Waiting at the start line for the race to begin was fairly hilarious. Everyone was yelling at the "Great Eight" for delaying the race, and just acting crazy to distract themselves from the cold. It wasn't my best race but it was a memorable experience.
row2k - Could you make lightweight now if you needed to? How much faster on the erg have you gotten since going heavyweight?
Antonio Sirianni - I'm just under 200lbs right now. In theory I (or just about any heavyweight rower) could make weight. But after losing that much body mass I wouldn't be the same rower. I doubt I would be a good enough oarsman to make any boats or win any races.
It's hard to say what my erg score was right before I switched, because my freshman year we didn't do any 2ks on Concept 2s. Senior year of high school I pulled a 6:36 at CRASH-Bs after weighing in at about 163. Sophomore year of college I pulled a 6:15 as a pretty light heavyweight (180 lbs during winter training). I didn't make a big drop last year, but I'm expecting to be able to do more damage this year as a more medium-sized heavyweight.
row2k - What are your goals for yourself and the team for the year?
Antonio Sirianni - It would be nice to sneak back into the 1V, but I just want to win as many races as I can in whatever boat I'm in, and have a crimson shirt draped over my shoulder at the end. More importantly, I want to finish my college career satisfied with my abilities and accomplishments as an oarsman, and without any regrets.
As a team, we all want to make sure everyone knows that Yale is an upper-echelon heavyweight program at the end of this upcoming season. Last year we had a rough end to the season, and now we're out to prove that 2009 was a fluke.