May 12, 2021

Slear Making the Most of Final PU Rowing Season, Setting Positive Tone for Tiger Men’s Lightweights

SEEING THE LIGHT: The Princeton University men’s lightweight crew shows its form as it defeated Temple in racing on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on April 24. It marked the first regatta for the crew since competing in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta in June, 2019. Senior co-captain David Slear, the second rower from the coxswain in the photo, is looking to set a positive tone in final season rowing for the Tigers. (Photo by Ed Hewitt, Row2K, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

By Justin Feil

When David Slear returned to the Princeton University campus for his final semester, the senior men’s lightweight rower resumed a habit that he has maintained since high school.

It’s a habit that speaks to his leadership and commitment. Slear along with Marcus Jonas are captains for the Tiger men’s lightweight crew, and his example went a long way in demonstrating how to resume training this year.

“I can’t think of one day, not one practice since his freshman year, that David Slear has not shown up, that he’s not the very first guy down to the boathouse bay,” said Princeton head coach Marty Crotty. “He takes all the oars out and puts them down by the dock. Nobody told him to do that ever. We don’t remind him. He just does it.”

Slear likes to be early and he likes to be first. It started when he began rowing for the local Dallas United Crew program since his Highland Park (Texas) High didn’t have a team.

“I like being early,” said Slear. “I try to be the first or one of the first people down most days to start getting ready or get myself in practice mode. I’ve done that since high school. It’s always been something. I don’t like being there a minute before practice starts. I like to get there and get stuff ready. It makes me feel useful and contributing to making sure practice runs smoothly.”

Slear was thrilled to be able to resume his early starts when the Tigers came back to campus this semester, and he has gotten even greater joy out of the chance to compete a couple more times before graduation.

On April 24, Slear was thrilled to be in competition the first varsity 8 boat that finished nearly 20 seconds ahead of Temple on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in the crew’s first action since competing in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta in June, 2019. The Tiger second varsity 8 also posted a win over Temple in its race.

“It was awesome,” said Slear, who rowed in the seven seat for the Tigers against Temple.

“The last time we raced side by side with another team was almost two years ago. It was awesome to get out there and do what we love. We’ve just been training as a team for a while, but it’s really special when you get to go out and race with your teammates and compete together.”

Remarkably both Princeton boats finished with the exact same finish time of 6:25.1 over the 2,000-meter course in their respective races, a novelty but not something the Tigers have dwelt on. They cherished the chance to race again.

“It was exciting,” said Crotty. “It was kind of unexpected. If you asked me a month ago if we’d be able to race, I would have told you that we probably won’t get any racing in. It was unexpected and exciting. The process that you use to get ready for a race was the same, and that’s always exciting [with] the training and putting the boats together and watching them gel, even if it was only three or four days before this race, it was great.”

Slear and the Tigers have been approved for one more event this season, and it’s a big one. Princeton will compete in the 2021 IRA National Championships on Mercer Lake on May 28. The Princeton men’s heavyweights will compete on May 28-29 as well.

“That’s what we’re working towards,” said Slear. “The main competition in that race would be Navy. That’s one of the staple teams that we race every year and they’re always one of the top teams in the league. It would be awesome to race against them. It would feel a lot more normal and be an awesome capstone to put on our year.”

Returning to rowing has been a welcome surprise. Princeton was cleared to resume competition after it got to Phase 4 of its return to play protocols. Slear said that many went in expecting the worst with the possibility of no competition this season, but the chance to compete and even just to train together again has lifted the team.

“We were off campus in the fall and were all just training separately,” said Slear.

“It’s so nice to be back with the team. It makes it so much easier to get work done when you have your teammates beside you. We were still fairly limited when we got back here. At first, we had to be in groups of no more than 10 and we weren’t allowed to row eights. Eventually we progressed through their phases. Being back together in eights rowing together has been awesome. It’s such a big difference from training on your own at home. It’s so much more enjoyable.”

Slear spent the first semester of his senior year at home in Texas training on his own. He mixed in biking, running and cross training. His access to actual rowing was severely limited for much of his time at home, and he was forced to do his training out of his house. The return to campus inspired him.

“It was great to see everybody,” said Slear. “I hadn’t seen any of my teammates since we left last March. They’re my best friends as well as my teammates. It’s so morally uplifting to be around each other as much as we can be.”

The chance to be together was one that Crotty has tried to continue to foster within the team. Training hasn’t looked quite as intense as most years, but the togetherness has been vital.

“Acknowledging everything else that the guys have had to cope with, and the uncertainty of whether or not we’re going to be able to race and the competitiveness of that racing, I’ve tried not to impose too much on the guys,” said Crotty.

“We’re certainly not doing two-a-days and we’re not doing the super intensity work we’d be doing at this time in the season. It’s a little bit like the fall in that regard. I’m trying to keep the boathouse a fun place to show up every day. I want it to be the best part of their day. Sitting in front of a computer for seven hours, taking class in a dorm room, and there’s restrictions on everything, it’s been difficult outside or rowing so I want to make sure the boathouse is the best place they visit every day.”

The composition of this year’s team has helped as the Tigers have a large senior class to lean on and they helped to keep spirits high during uncertain times.

“I can’t say enough; there are not enough superlatives,” said Crotty.

“They’re showing great leadership through this. They’ve kept the group together throughout this, at least the guys that came back physically in person. And they showed great leadership in helping the guys who decided not to come back. They helped them navigate the situation when guys had to make some really hard decisions to take a leave or a year off.”

Crotty was impressed by the ability of his senior rowers to pick right up where they left off. From their first practice together in the spring semester, he watched them set the tone.

“The rowing, it’s tidy, it’s sharp, and that’s all led by the seniors,” said Crotty.

“They’ve developed step-by-step, but they’ve created and molded a way of rowing. There’s a certain look to it. I was kind of curious when we got back in eights, would that still be there? We were in a really, really good spot last year. We were at a high point last March when we paused. And first stroke, it was there. That is going to be their legacy – just the way our boat looks.”

Princeton had set a high standard in previous years. They had not competed since taking the silver medal in the 2019 IRA Nationals. They also won silver at the 2018 IRAs. Slear was in both of those boats – he and Jonas and coxswain Sydney Edwards are the only seniors to be in the first varsity boat since their freshman year.

“He’s so incredibly consistent,” said Crotty. “Consistency leads to reliability.”

In assessing his role, Slear considers himself just a small part of a talented group. Princeton missed out on the chance to showcase its speed last year when the pandemic hit, and has just a limited look this year.

“It seemed like we had all the parts,” said Slear. “It is a shame that we didn’t get to put any races together. We have a lot of young guys who have a lot of talent now, and have all the fundamentals that are really important for rowing. I’m excited to see what they can do next year.”

Slear is making the most of his final month on the water. After graduation he will be returning to Texas where he will be working in software engineering for Capital One.

“I’m looking into getting into triathlon and pivoting my athletic endeavors into that,” said Slear. “There’s not a lot of opportunity in rowing after college. I’m going to see if there’s anything there for me.”

After graduating, Slear will be returning home with fond memories and friendships from four years in the men’s lightweight program. He’s also part of the reason that so many teammates have had a good experience.

But before moving on, Slear is excited to compete one more time with his Princeton teammates and add the final chapter to a legacy of perseverance.

“It’s been hugely impactful in my life,” said Slear. “I think I’ve been growing significantly as a person as a result of being on this team with all these incredible people and getting coaching from some of the best coaches in the world. It’s had a big impact on me and I’m super thankful for that. The last two years haven’t been what I would have pictured, but I’m trying to make up for it with the time I have left. I’m super thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given.”