Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 31
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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POPPING UP: Paul Popescu, middle, pulls through a recent training session with the U.S. junior national team. Popescu, a former Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC) star and Princeton University crew recruit, will be competing on the men’s eight this week at the World Rowing Junior Championship in Racice, Czech Republic.

Former MJRC Star and PU Recruit Popescu Primed to Compete for U.S. at Junior Worlds

Bill Alden

Paul Popescu’s first day with the Mercer Junior Rowing Club (MJRC) turned out to be a shock to his system.

“Not having done other sports, I was not in shape,” said Popescu, recalling his initial practice with the club in 2006 as a Montgomery High freshman.

“I was so sore that first day; I wanted to quit. The coach convinced me to keep coming.”

Fighting through that early pain, Popescu emerged as a star and leader for the MJRC, helping the men’s varsity eight excel in both the Head of Charles and USRowing Youth Nationals and serving as a captain this past season in his senior year.

Popescu’s skill and character caught the attention of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight program and he will be joining the Tigers next month.

This week, though, Popescu is heading to Racice, Czech Republic where he looking to turn heads for the U.S men’s eight in the World Rowing Junior Championship.

For Popescu, representing the U.S. at the regatta is a culmination of a two-year quest.

In the summer of 2009, Popescu took part in the U.S. Rowing developmental camp.

“I think the developmental camp really improved my rowing more that I thought I could in a month,” said Popescu, noting that he did three weeks of training in Pittsburgh and a week of racing in Tennessee last summer.

“It helped with my rowing and they gave us things we could do over the next nine months to get even better, things like maintenance lifting and core work.”

This summer, Popescu was invited to the selection camp, which started with 45 rowers. He survived a cut to make the final 20 rowers and then was chosen from that group to row on the U.S. eight.

“It was a relief,” said Popescu, reflecting on his thoughts when his spot on the top boat was confirmed.

“We started having one eight row over and over again so we got a sense of what the boat was going to be. It is something that has been my goal for the last two years. Knowing that you are representing the U.S. is exciting, you feel a responsibility.”

Popescu savored the responsibility of being a team captain for MJRC. “I remember sitting at the club banquet my freshman year when that year’s captains announced the next year captains,” recalled Popescu.

“I thought at that time that being captain was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to try to be a leader and see what impact I could make. I had a close relationship with our coach, Chris Callaghan. He was very open; he was not afraid to ask us our opinion, I was the team’s spokesman; he got our opinions. There was a lot of back and forth.”

The members of the MJRC top eight also developed a close relationship.

“Early in the fall, we realized that we had a solid group of guys; we had the potential to get better every week and pick up boat speed,” said Popescu.

“We had the best result for a Mercer men’s eight at the Head of Charles. You don’t always have that core group.”

As a result of his MJRC experience, Popescu has gotten more of his potential on and off the water.

“Getting into a dedicated athletic program like MJRC, you learn to prioritize things,” asserted Popescu.

“When you got to practice everyday, you have to come home and do your homework and still get your rest. It also helped me be competitive; I wanted to perform as well as I could on the water, on the ERG [indoor rowing machine], and in other things.”

As he looks ahead to the world regatta which will run from August 4-8, Popescu is confident that his boat will perform well.

“We go out and improve everyday,” said Popescu. “It’s incredible to go so hard and then come the next day and do better. It is a group of guys where everyone is determined and driven. We want to go out there and show the world that the U.S. junior rowing program is strong. We are going out there to win, not finish second or third.”

Regardless of the result in Racice, Popescu knows that the experience will help make him a stronger rower for the Princeton program this fall.

“I think it will help me be ready for Princeton,” said Popescu. “We have a lot of accomplished rowers coming in; there is one guy rowing for Australia at the worlds and another guy who rowed for the U.S. last year. I want to be able to keep up with those guys. I want to be a leader and make a contribution. I want to help Princeton win some titles.”

In view of how far Popescu has come from his first MJRC practice, it certainly won’t be shocking to see him make a major contribution to the Princeton program.

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