Tiger Crew Captain Washburn Primed for IRAs As He Ends Latest Chapter of Life on the Water
By Bill Alden
Spencer Washburn has been on the water around the sport of rowing seemingly since birth.
As a kid growing up in Andover, Mass., Washburn tagged along with his father, Peter, a math teacher at the Phillips Academy who is the longtime coach of the school's crew program.
Washburn grew into being a star for his dad at Phillips, becoming a team captain and helping the program make it into the top three in New England.
After high school, Washburn came to Princeton University in 2001 determined to become a vital part of that program's storied tradition.
Washburn achieved that goal as he competed on Princeton's top varsity boat as a sophomore and junior. Earning the respect of his teammates, Washburn has served as a captain of the heavyweight program this season.
This weekend, Washburn closes the Princeton chapter of his rowing life as he competes for the second varsity boat at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships in Camden.
In reflecting on his rowing career, Washburn knew he was destined to fall in love with the sport.
"As a little kid I was always hanging around the launch, watching practices," said the genial Washburn with a smile after a training session last week.
"My family is a rowing family. My grandfather taught and coached at St. Andrews in Delaware. I started rowing in the ninth grade. I played soccer up until then and I swam one year in high school and played basketball one year. I started rowing year-round as a junior."
Washburn harbors no regrets about the course he has taken athletically. "It is the ultimate team sport, especially in the eights," explained Washburn, whose older brother, Hunter, rowed with him at Phillips and then competed for the Naval Academy crew program.
"It's not about having one great guy. The deciding factor is how the boat comes together and the whole chemistry of it all. At times, it can be really frustrating but when it comes together, it's one of the best feelings."
Rowing for his dad and with his brother at Phillips gave Washburn a broader perspective on the sport. "I had a great time with it," said Washburn, referring to his high school experience.
"It was a little tough at first because people looked at me as the coach's son but that turned out fairly well because the kids knew I could compete. It was great to go to practice and ride back with my father and brother, I got a rower's view of the sport and a coach's view."
When it came to looking at colleges, Washburn saw the Princeton crew program as a natural fit. "I wanted to row in a college, that was a big thing I was looking at in considering schools," recalled Washburn.
"I knew that Princeton had a great program and that Curtis Jordan and Greg Hughes were good coaches. I came down here for a weekend and I loved the area and the school. It was by far my first choice. I applied early and got in early."
Although choosing to come to Princeton wasn't a hard decision, adjusting to the rigors of college crew was a challenge. "In high school, you're the big fish in a small pond," said Washburn. "You get here and you're pushed to the back. Everyday you have to be on top of things and turn it up a notch. No one takes an off day here."
Washburn thrived in that atmosphere as he earned a seat on Princeton's top varsity heavyweight boat as a sophomore and was named as a team captain for his senior season. His college finale, though, has been disappointing on one level as a knee injury kept him from keeping his spot on the top boat.
Still, fulfilling his responsibilities as captain and helping the program win the Rowe Cup at the Eastern Sprints as the overall points champion has made Washburn's senior year memorable.
"I was surprised and honored," said Washburn, referring to being named captain. "It has been a great season. Winning the Rowe Cup spoke volumes about how much the team is together and how much effort we have all put in. It's probably the most fun I have had rowing."
Princeton head coach Jordan has appreciated the effort Washburn has put in as captain even as he battled injury. "Spencer has all the attributes you would expect from a captain," said Jordan.
"Spencer injured his knee in January and it took him a seriously long time to get training again. We tried a head-to-head competition for the spot and Aaron [Kroeker] won out. Spencer really helped the second varsity boat that he was in. He was a great captain and he handled that situation extremely maturely. He was unselfish."
Washburn is ready to handle his final college competition with aplomb. "I think everybody is extremely excited," asserted Wahsburn. "We're working two-a-days. The nature of this group is such that we're going to work hard for this."
The hard work Washburn has put has yielded dividends off the water as well. "I've had a great time here," said Washburn, who will be staying connected with the sport by teaching and coaching rowing at the Hun School this fall. "I've learned that I don't want to stray too far from the sport of rowing. I have met extraordinary people through the sport."
With the class that Washburn has exhibited during his Princeton career, he has marked himself as one of those extraordinary people in the sport.