Sam Stitt, 2008 Olympian in the Men's Quad and 9-time national team member, nominally retired from rowing after coming up short of qualifying for the London Olympics at the so-called "Regatta of Death" in Lucerne in the summer of 2012. Since "retiring" however, Stitt has had a knack for continuing to win, earning a spot on the 2015 Pan Am team in the double sculls with Ryan Monaghan, and teaming up with PBC rower Willie Cowles to win the Champ Double at the Head of the Charles this weekend.
It's a retirement that might make some active athletes envious. row2k caught up with Stitt after the Directors Challenge Quads on Sunday at HOCR.
row2k: To coin a phrase, it seems like a very Sam Stitt thing to do, to come up 4.2 seconds short on raw time, and then the other boat gets a 5 second penalty. As an athlete, you've had an almost uncanny knack for being there and make stuff happen. What do you think that is?
Sam Stitt: It's just the love for the sport… I don't know if I am answering this correctly. I've been on the good side of results and the bad side of them, and for athletes at this level , that's something that rides a lot of guys. You lose those races by less than a second, and when you're training, that's just something that's in the back of your head. If it's not at the forefront of your thoughts, it's in there. I think, you do this sport long enough, you know it's all in the training. These spectators don't see it. They see the result, but they don't see the guys, every day, two-three hours per practice, two, sometimes three times per day, but that's just what it takes.
Unfortunately, I don't train as much as most of these guys do, I've hit a level where I know how old I am, and what I can do and what I can't do, and to prevent injury, I don't train as hard as they do. But I used to, so I know what they are going through. I'm lucky enough every once in a while to get a young guy in there, that does do that training, that will pull me down the course. That's just the way it is, it's always back and forth, with the Graves brothers and with Willie and with the guys I've rowed with in the past, we're always right there next to each other. It's situational too, you get out there on the course, could be a headwind, could be a tailwind; luckily, I've had experience with all of it!
row2k: Does coming out on the good side every so often ease the memory of sometimes not being on there?
Stitt: Yeah! This race is plus seventeen minutes long, and you come up short by 8/10s at the end of it and you are like, what happened? Did I just not do that one stroke hard enough? It either happens to you or it doesn't.
row2k: How was that quad today?
Stitt: Well, it was interesting; Willie has been up at Craftsbury with the Graves brothers. It wasn't so much that we were worried about rowing against those guys, we were just like, "well, let’s row with them, we're starting 1 & 2, it'll be a fast combo." It was funny, we were rigging the quad today, and we realized that it didn't have a toe, so we ended up steering with pressure, which is great for Powerhouse stretch, but the second half of the river has a bunch of pitfalls.
row2k: Who was calling the steering?
Stitt: I was. I essentially was going to be in three-seat, not doing anything, but once we figured out that we had to do it with pressure, me and Pete (Graves) were one- and two-seat. We put on some speed in the middle of that race but had to check it down in front of Cambridge Boat Club. The announcer was just like, "Ohhhh, doesn't look like they are happy with their point." I don't know if that was detrimental to us, but the whole point of that race was to have fun. Talking to Sean Wolf, this race gets more competitive every year; it started out as a fundraiser, and now a lot of guys are dropping heat in it.
row2k: With the Graves brothers, are you friends, rivals?
Stitt: Every year I tell Willie, "I'm just going to row the eight next year," then we get first or second or third, so we gotta row the double again. With those guys, it's good camaraderie; that said, Mrs. Graves, their mother, she approached me last night, I was afraid she was going to cut me with something sharp! They unfortunately got a five-second penalty with a buoy, but she got in my face, saying "You got really lucky," but they are a great family, we've known them for a long time.
row2k: With the fact that you can still do it, and that you are still having success, is there any thought of maybe you can go a few more rounds?
Stitt: That's funny, you're not the first person to ask me that. I'm keeping my toe in the water. I do say I'm retired, but that's just because I'm not training as hard as these guys are, and I feel like, for me, I owe it to the guys that, if I am going to do it, then I'm going to start training full time. It's not just about on the national stage, you have to think internationally.
This year is going to be a tough year, the men's program didn't qualify any boats for next year. The big step is going to Lucerne. I was at the "Regatta of Death" in 2012, and it's not easy. Everybody is fighting for a chance at the Olympics. It's a long road. It's the yellow brick road, and you have to walk the whole road to get there. Luckily, I think there are a lot of tough guys in the United States right now who can do that.