row2k starts off our 2012 collegiate previews featuring an interview with Virginia Freshmen rower Forrest Brown. Forrest raced in the St. Andrew's crew that made the PE Final at last year's Henley Royal Regatta and is now bringing his leadership and experience to the UVa novice squad.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing and why did you choose to row collegiately at Virginia?
Forrest Brown - My Dad, Lindsay Brown, was an alternate on the 1988 Olympic Team and has been coaching at St. Andrew’s School, my high school in Middletown, Delaware, since before I was born; I grew up around the sport and got to spend a lot of time with rowers well before I actually got in a shell. When I started high school I actually wasn’t too excited about crew, but my Dad told me I had to try for at least one year. At the time I was no more than 5’6” and 110 pounds, so I actually was almost a coxswain! I was lucky enough to be in an exceptionally talented class of rowers, so, despite the fact my first 2k was an 8:27, our boat went very fast. But like most people, the thing that drew me to the sport was the team dynamic. Our boat became very close over the season, and I realized success felt more meaningful to me in rowing than other sports. I was hooked. Thankfully my body cooperated, and I got taller over the next few years.
Choosing to row at Virginia was one of those decisions where I look back and almost can’t believe it happened, but am so happy it did. I had visited for one weekend last fall and liked the program, but it was very difficult to get a handle on the actual rowers and coaches in such a short amount of time. I had never talked to Coach Biller when I decided to come here and only had talked to Coach Shuler (the novice coach) a few times. I was also a little worried that, as a club team, there wouldn’t be the same competitiveness and drive as in a varsity program. But as soon as I met Frank this summer I knew it was going to be a great four years. The whole team has taken on his attitude that excellence is an expectation rather than a goal. Nobody uses our status as a club team as an excuse, and all the rowers, even the novices who have never rowed before, are at practice 6 days a week for two hours and are in the gym on their own time just as much. When you combine that with a beautiful body of water to row on, and a school with so much history and so many opportunities, I feel very fortunate to be a Wahoo!
row2k - Why did you choose a heavyweight club program over rowing for a lightweight program?
Forrest Brown - I decided very early in the college process that rowing would not be the final reason I chose to go to a school. When it came down to making a decision, I didn’t so much choose to row as a club heavyweight as I chose Virginia. I really liked the lightweight programs at the other schools I looked at, but other factors, such as the academic environment, social life, and artistic opportunities, pushed me towards Virginia. In retrospect, however, I think it’s a good thing I’m not in a lightweight program. I’m not sure how well my body would have held up if I was constantly worrying about my weight. While I was still at a fairly low weight coming into this year, I’ve already gained 15 pounds or so and am still getting taller, so I may not have been able to stay in a lightweight program for long anyway. Most importantly, being a heavyweight means that I can still eat whatever I want, and, as anyone who has ever had a meal with me knows, I could never give up my bacon.
row2k - St. Andrews had quite the run at Henley last summer making it to the PE Final, what are some of your best memories of racing there?
Forrest Brown - Well that’s a tough question! There are so many to choose from: we met Steven Redgrave briefly, raced on the olympic course for this summer at Dorney Lake, and had a great overnight visit at Shrewsbury School, for starters. My two favorite specific memories would have to be racing on Friday and Saturday at Henley. Coming into Friday, we’d already met the standard set by previous Henley crews from St. Andrew’s, and it would have been very easy to be complacent and be content with that result. When 3 strokes into the race we caught a huge digger and 300 meters into the race were about a length down on Hampton, I think we teetered on the edge of accepting a quarterfinal finish. The only way I can describe what happened next was our whole boat decided that wasn’t good enough. I remember seeing their stern right next to our bow out of the corner of my eye and feeling a huge jump in our boat speed. We didn’t have a great technical race, but we clawed our way back and finally took the lead well past the mile mark. It was deafening coming past the enclosures; we were barely hanging on, and, when we finally passed the finish line, I still wasn’t sure we’d won. When I heard the announcer say, “St. Andrew’s by a canvas,” that had to be one of the best moments of my life.
The next day topped it though. Going head-to-head with Eton at Henley is about as intimidating as it gets, but our race the day before had us feeling so confident that I knew we would win the moment we lined up at the start. This time there wasn’t even a hint of panic when we were down a length off the start and when still were behind at the Barrier and the Fawley. We felt smooth and powerful the whole time and walked straight through Eton coming into the mile mark. I knew we’d won as soon as we hit the enclosures, and I felt completely invincible when we crossed the finish line. I may have got too excited, because I pumped my fist, lost control of my oar, and caught a crab that almost took my head off. I don’t think anyone has ever been as happy as I was then after catching a crab!
But easily the best thing about the trip was spending a month living and training with my teammates. Those 8 other guys in the boat (and the two alternates) will always be some of my best friends. It’s not often when a group of very different people can come together like we did, and I’m just thankful to have been along for the ride. Having my father coach me through the experience was pretty special as well. You always want to make your parents proud, and having my dad in the pre-race huddle made the victory even more meaningful. Getting out of the boat after the race against Eton and giving him a hug was something I’ll never forget.
row2k - What are your strengths as both a student and an athlete?
Forrest Brown - I’d actually say being a good student has been my biggest strength as an athlete. I’m a believer in the philosophy that success isn’t something you achieve in isolation- if you’re working hard as a student, you’ll work hard as an athlete as well. All the best athletes I’ve known have been hard-working students. You can’t suddenly flip a switch and become a disciplined rower at the boathouse if you’re not dedicated to your studies as well. So when I’m in school, or at Glee Club rehearsal, or am doing any organized activity outside of rowing, the effort I put in translates to improvement in everything else.
row2k - You were awarded the Jefferson Scholarship at Virginia, tell us about that scholarship and what it takes to earn it?
Forrest Brown - The Jefferson Scholars Foundation is an independent non-profit that seeks to bring promising young leaders to the University of Virginia. A Jefferson scholarship includes tuition, books, fees, and a small stipend, as well as several enrichment programs over the four years at the University. I was nominated for the scholarship by St. Andrew’s at the end of my junior year, and I submitted a separate application early my senior year. I was one of 14 candidates selected as a semifinalist from Delaware, and was interviewed by a regional committee in January. I was then selected as one of just over 100 finalists from around the world, and came to Charlottesville in March. We all took a math test, wrote a few essays, participated in several seminars and evaluative events, and finished with an interview. We also were given a lot of time to explore the school. A few days later I found out I was an alternate for the scholarship, and after a few weeks I accepted an offer to be one of the 28 members of the Jefferson Scholar class of 2015. I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of such an exceptional group of leaders and scholars, and am grateful to the foundation for helping to bring me to such an amazing community here at Virginia.
row2k - How has your first season in college gone so far and what are your goals for the spring?
Forrest Brown - This was actually the first fall I’ve ever been in season for, and I really enjoyed it. Because the majority of the novice team here has no high school rowing experience, we focussed a lot on the basics of the stroke, and I really worked on re-tooling mine. I also got to try rowing in different seats than I was used to; in high school I only really raced in bow seat, but here I’ve been everywhere from bow to the engine room to stroke. I’ve especially enjoyed learning to scull, which has been heavily emphasized. It’s really changed my understanding of how the set and propulsion of the boat works, and has made me a much better rower. But I’m definitely ready to get to the spring season- I am excited for people to see how fast we can be. Our goal is to win Dad-Vails and ACRAs, which will obviously be a huge challenge with so many fast schools at both regattas. Individually, I want to help maintain a standard of excellence in the whole program so that every boat is fast. I can’t wait to compete with the men (and women) in whatever boat I’m in against some fast crews. Nothing’s better than lining up with eight friends next to five other boats and putting it all on the line.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Forrest Brown - I think everyone loves the same thing about rowing: the team, the camaraderie, the bonds you form with your boat. Rowing has exposed me to people I probably would have avoided otherwise and allowed me to love and respect them like family. There’s obviously a lot more to it than that, but at its core, that’s what rowing is about for me.
row2k - What are you studying and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Forrest Brown - I’m still technically undeclared, but I’m leaning towards double-majoring in biology and english. I know that’s a random combination, but I enjoy writing and reading literature, and I love studying the natural world. I’m not entirely sure what I want to do after college, but both of my parents are teachers and I can definitely see myself doing that. My dream job is a little embarrassing, but I think being a trainer at Seaworld would be amazing. I’ve seen a few shows there and the interaction between the trainers and the animals is so inspiring. I know that would be a job I’d be excited to go to every day! Whatever I end up doing, I know the lessons I’m learning at the boathouse will be some of my best assets.