With Captain Mead Leading by Example, PU Men’s Heavyweights Battled at IRAs
NICK OF TIME: Princeton University men’s heavyweight rower Nick Mead, center, pulls hard in recent action for the varsity 8. Last Sunday, senior captain Mead ended his Princeton career by helping the varsity 8 place fourth in the grand final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta in Sacramento, Calif. Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications
Nick Mead gave up lacrosse to start rowing as a freshman at the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pa.
Initially, Mead wasn’t sure if he had made the right decision. “I didn’t like it the first couple of months but I think that is pretty typical of rowing when you are first starting” said Mead.
“It is not very much fun. You are learning all the new things, you are getting blisters on your hands, and you are not going very fast.”
But with his father having rowed at Princeton and his mother and brother having rowed at Penn, Mead was destined to excel as an oarsman. He became a star at Episcopal, helping its 4+ win the 2013 Scholastic Rowing Association of America title. Mead also competed with the men’s US 8+ at the 2013 Junior World Championships in Trakai, Lithuania.
“After my junior year, I did a summer with the U.S. development team,” said Mead.
“At that point I was still pretty rough around the edges. I had picked up the sport only a couple of years before. A lot of other guys were more experienced but I was pretty big and fairly strong so they kept me around and taught me a few things. The next summer, I actually made the junior team and raced. It is an amazing way to get accustomed to what college rowing is going to be like.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mead came to Princeton in 2013 and joined its men’s heavyweight program. He quickly moved up the ranks, rowing for the second varsity 8 as a freshman and then moving up to the varsity 8 as a sophomore.
Serving as a team captain this season, Mead wrapped up his Princeton rowing career last weekend at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
In reflecting on his adjustment to the rigors of college rowing as a freshman, Mead applied the lessons he learned from competing for the U.S.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is losing to these people on a regular basis, your peers and teammates,” said Mead.
“It can be sort of demoralizing to lose seat races, lose Erg pieces when you aren’t real used to it. Freshman year taught me to have the long view and know that you can lose in practice to your teammates but that is just a sign that you have things you need to do to get better. It is not like an indictment of your entire rowing career and how good you are.”
Mead ended up having a very good year as a freshman, stroking the 2V to a silver medal at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championships. He moved up to the varsity 8 as a sophomore, rowing from the 6 seat as the boat took bronze at the IRA Championships. In his junior season, he helped the varsity eight win another bronze medal at the IRA regatta.
“After training at Princeton for one year, having that step up from my high school, I got a lot better a lot quicker,” said Mead, recalling his move up to the top boat.
“I came in the fall and I was ready to make the leap up to the varsity. I trained really hard over the summer and had that goal in mind coming in. It was definitely a jump up technically because some of the guys in that boat, like Tim Masters, had won medals at U23s for Australia. I was ready fitness-wise and mentally to make that jump.”
In preparing for his senior campaign, Mead had another stint with the national rowing program.
“I tried for U23s pretty much right after finishing IRAs,” said Mead. “We didn’t have a great result at the end of the summer but again I learned a lot from being around guys from different programs and seeing how their training was, what they felt about the stroke, and how to move boats. It definitely helped me when I came back this fall.”
Serving as the team captain this season gave Mead the chance to apply some of those lessons.
“It is a lot more work than I anticipated. I think that is one of the fun parts about being captain, organizing things and doing all the behind the scenes work to make everyone else have a good time and to make sure that things run smoothly,” said Mead.
“In the fall, it was definitely a lot of logistical work. It took some time to get used to but in terms of giving back to a team that I felt in the last four years has done so much for me is a really exciting opportunity.”
The understated Mead sought to set the tone for the program this year through his work ethic.
“I would say I am a little quieter than last year’s captain, Martin Barakso, who was a larger than life figure,” said Mead.
“I try to play into my strengths, leading by example. I tried to do a lot of extra work and quietly push guys in the right direction. I also had the help of a great senior class so I rely on those guys a lot too.”
The Tiger varsity 8 started the season going in the right direction, going 4-0 before suffering narrow defeats to Harvard and Yale in successive weeks. At the Eastern Sprints, Princeton finished third behind winner Yale and runner-up Harvard.
“I think just that no matter how much progress you make as a team that you have to recognize that all your other competitors are also doing the same thing and that they are working just as hard as you,” said Mead in assessing the top boat’s performance.
“You have to not only get better and faster but get better and faster than your competitors are going to be.”
As Princeton prepared for the IRA regatta, it went outside the box to get better.
“We switched things up a lot after sprints; we went into mixed lineups after sprints for four or five days,” said Mead.
“We didn’t have a 1V or a 2V, it was even 8s. We did a lot of practices, side by side, running even speed, switching guys back and forth, changing combinations and ended up with this new lineup which is pretty radically different than the one we raced with at sprints.”
Although the top boat ended up fourth in the IRA grand final, it executed its race plan coming into the competition.
“There are so many more teams and so many teams have made progress, pretty much every race is going to take a big effort,” said Mead, looking ahead to a race which saw Yale take first as it clocked a time of 5:29.900 over the 2,000-meter course on Lake Natoma with Washington finishing second in 5:29.969 and Harvard taking third in 5:33.455, edging Princeton, which came in at 5:33.786.
“That is part of the reason why it is so exciting. So we are looking at this point, day to day, win the heat and make the A final in the semis. If we make the A final, which we think we are capable of, at that point we will throw everything we have at it and go for the win.”
Although Mead didn’t get a medal in his final race for Princeton, he believes he has gained something more important from rowing in college.
“In the last four years, this team has been very formative in who I am,” said Mead.
“I owe that to my teammates and my coaches; rowing has been the defining experience of my Princeton career.”
With that experience as a foundation, Mead is looking to accomplish even more in the sport.
“I have been recently invited to join the senior team camp,” said Mead, noting that he will be training in Princeton.
“I will still be around, which is exciting. I will get to see some of the guys who are younger than me next year. I am excited to keep rowing and have some success with the U.S. team.”