Vol. LXII, No. 20
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Taylor Washburn had every reason to believe he would have a smooth ride upon joining the Princeton University men’s lightweight crew in the fall of 2003.
One of Washburn’s older brothers, Hunter, was a standout for the Naval Academy lightweight program while another older brother, Spencer, was a stalwart for the Princeton heavyweight crew.
From spending time hanging out with Spencer and his crew buddies, Washburn came to Princeton with friends in the boathouse and a familiarity with the Tiger rowing scene.
But things didn’t go well for Washburn in his first few months at Princeton.
“I put too much pressure on myself academically and with crew,” said Washburn, a native of Andover, Mass. whose father was his rowing coach in high school at Phillips Academy. “I was getting burned out; I needed to take a step back. I took a year off after completing the fall semester.”
Washburn headed home and spent a semester coaching with his father. That experience helped Washburn appreciate what he could do at Princeton.
“I saw the sport from the other side,” recalled Washburn. “I saw guys who were in it for the right reasons, who would work hard and smile when they came off the water no matter what happened. It helped me recapture my love for the sport.”
Washburn returned to Princeton in the spring of 2005 and has emerged as a key performer for the Tiger lightweight program.
This spring, Washburn is serving as the captain of the varsity boat which is ranked No. 1 nationally as it heads up to Worcester, Mass. this weekend for the Eastern Sprints.
In Washburn’s view, his hiatus from the sport has helped pave the way to his current success.
“I came back with a new perspective, I wasn’t always rushing everywhere without a purpose,” said Washburn.
“It was a chance to step back and realize what I had in college. I had missed that fall season but the guys knew me through my brother, they knew I was a Washburn and I got the support I needed.”
That new perspective helped Washburn adjust to a change in culture around the boathouse as Greg Hughes replaced Joe Murtaugh as the lightweight head coach in 2005.
“Greg has done a huge job of changing the mindset and getting us back to our roots and what got Princeton to the top in the first place,” asserted Washburn.
“I had heard a lot about him from my brother, he is very intense. I heard about him as a competitor and how well he had done for the lightweight program during his time as a rower here. He’s done a great job for the boat.”
While Princeton improved over the last two springs, the varsity struggled to find consistent success. “We have been happy with the progress,” said Washburn.
“In my sophomore year, we didn’t make Eastern finals but came in third at the IRAs. Last year it was the reverse; we came in third at Easterns but didn’t do well in the IRAs.”
Coming into this spring, Washburn had a feeling that the top boat could be a force. “Looking across the board, we had a lot of depth,” said Washburn.
“Coming into spring there were still 14 guys competing for eight seats; that’s helped push everyone to a higher level.”
Washburn had led by example in trying to push his teammates in role as captain.
“I’m not really outspoken; the guys knew what they were getting when they elected me,” said Washburn. “I take care of business, I try to outwork guys and do whatever I can to help the boat.”
It has helped Washburn to have his brother Spencer around the program serving as the lightweight team’s new assistant coach, returning to Princeton after coaching the Hun School crew program.
“It’s been really fun having him in the boathouse again,” added Washburn. “When he was on the heavyweight team I would see him but they were really a separate program. It’s great having him on our team and working with us.”
Although the team didn’t work so well in an opening day loss to Navy in late March, Washburn saw potential for big things ahead. “Believe it or not, I walked away from that race with more confidence,” recalled Washburn. “We had a good race, it just wasn’t good enough. That race could have gone either way.”
Things have gone Princeton’s way since that day with Washburn pointing to wins over Cornell and a victory at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton (H-Y-P) regatta as key steps forward.
“We hadn’t beaten Cornell in a while,” said Washburn. “The last couple of years, they had derailed us. We had early season success and then they would shut us down. H-Y-P was a big race because of the tradition and we hadn’t won it in a long time. It was the first time we have won on the road in a while.”
Washburn is cautiously optimistic about the boat’s prospects as it hits the road and heads to New England this weekend for the Eastern Sprints.
“I think we are feeling very good about how well the boat is doing; it is the result of the work we put in over the fall and winter,” maintained Washburn.
“We expect a dogfight like it is every year. We all feel capable of winning but we know that nobody is going to hand us anything. There is no extra pressure being No. 1; guys put a lot of pressure on themselves racing for Princeton with the nature of the program and its tradition.”
After going through a rocky start in trying to live up to that tradition, Washburn has enjoyed how things have come full circle for him.
“It’s been a fun ride,” added Washburn, who will be heading back to Phillips Academy after graduation to teach math and coach crew. “I’m enjoying finishing up my academic stuff; having crew as the final commitment makes sense.”
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