While most of his peers were playing little league baseball and Pop Warner football, senior Ben Nace was focusing on a more unorthodox athletic pursuit - becoming a world-class rower.
Although he now hails from Dallas, Nace credits his family's northeastern roots for inspiring him to pursue his passion for rowing. Trips to New York and New England, where rowing is popular, had a major impact on his childhood.
"My mom's from Worcester, [Mass.] and my dad's from Schenectady, [N.Y.]," Nace said. "I have an uncle who lives in Boston. Going to his house, always driving along the Charles [River], you would see all the boathouses and all the rowing."
Motivated by these fond scenes from his childhood, Nace broke into the sport the first chance he could. When he heard that a fellow student was thinking about starting a rowing team during his freshman year of high school, Nace became one of the co-founders.
The rowing team at Nace's Dallas high school came from humble beginnings, but it soon established itself as a force with which to be reckoned.
"Our initial team had eight guys on it," Nace said. "Then we won the Novice Texas State Championship in the Quad, and so we had some credibility."
Toward the end of his high-school career, Nace's team gained more national recognition. College coaches from prestigious rowing programs such as Harvard, Brown and Penn started to notice Nace's abilities and talents.
"My junior year, the team got bigger and I started running the Single. We went to a national invite, where I got second place. That caught the eyes of some of the [collegiate] rowing coaches."
One of the highlights of Nace's rowing career was his selection for an elite under-23 squad that qualified for a trip to Scotland to represent America in a tournament held last summer.
As he heads into his last season at Penn, Nace took some time to reflect on his time with the Quakers.
"My freshman year, by the spring, we had seven recruited rowers and one walk-on, as well as a recruited coxswain," he said.
Despite the young team, the Quakers won five dual races, and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and the National Championships.
"I think we were the first [Penn] team in a very long time to make a grand final at the [Nationals]," Nace said.
But the makeup of this year's squad bears little resemblance to the one Nace joined three years ago. Of the nine recruits in his freshman class, only one remains.
Nace tried to explain the drastic turnover that has changed his team's roster so often during his time at Penn.
"Rowing takes up a lot of time and it's really demanding," he said. "If you're not in it 100 percent, then just that little bit of doubt makes you think that all this effort and time you're putting in isn't making a difference."
"Fraternities tend to be an enemy of rowing," he added.
Although his collegiate career may be coming to a close, Nace has no plans to put away his oars any time soon. After he leaves Penn, he hopes to make the U.S. national team - either by training with a club or a national team coach - which represents the country at the Olympic level.
Once again, his plans are unorthodox compared to those of his preprofessional peers.
"If, at the end of this year, I'm invited to join the [national team], the job [search] would be put on hold," he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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