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Senior-heavy rowing captain Jonathan Condon competes in the Navy Day Regatta at the Schuylkill River on Oct. 16, 2022. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Adaptability has been a prominent theme of heavyweight rower Jonathan Condon’s Penn experience. On top of being an international student-athlete who spent much of his college career in the backdrop of a global pandemic, the senior captain has needed to acclimate to a multitude of changes in the rowing program. Despite these obstacles, Condon has found his groove in Philadelphia, cementing himself as one of Penn’s most important rowers in the process.

Condon quite literally needed to travel halfway across the world from his hometown of Brisbane, Australia to get to Penn. Growing up, he was passionate about one sport that stood out from others: rugby. 

“I come from a big rugby family,” Condon said. “My granddad played it, my dad and uncles played, and my little brother did as well. That was sort of our household's main sport. I was always better at rugby than other sports. [But] when I was around 15 to 17 years old, I blew my ACL, meniscus, and MCL out so I needed to have a few knee surgeries; which meant that I had to focus on another sport. I started to really focus on rowing.”

While rowing is popular in countries like New Zealand and Australia, it is not always accessible for many to enjoy and pick up at a young age.

“Rowing is a pretty expensive sport,” Condon said. “When you look at a sport like soccer, all you need to play is a goalpost and a ball. Whereas in rowing, you need a racing shell [boat], which are rather expensive, you need eight oars, a coxswain, access to a body of water, a place to launch from, and coaches need to have their own boats as well."

But after realizing that rowing could be a gateway to a litany of schools in the United States, Condon honed in on improving in the sport throughout the latter half of his time in high school.

“I always wanted to use sport to take me overseas for an education,” Condon said. “After some research, I noticed that the opportunities, particularly in the United States, for rowing were far more expansive than they were for rugby. In talking with coaches, I spoke with Penn among other rival schools. Penn was the best academic school I could pursue and that was a big factor for me."

Despite the long journey, though, Condon wasn't alone in pursuing collegiate rowing in the U.S. after growing up in Australia. "Probably my favorite part about the race is seeing my mates from home and getting the opportunity to race against them," he added. "I have two friends I went to high school with that will be on other boats there. It’s fantastic to see the community from my hometown of Brisbane rowing in the States. 

Besides academics, another thing that attracted Condon to Penn was the program's "underdog mentality." Despite being one of the most historic teams in the country, the Quakers have not won a national championship since 1992 — falling short of rivals Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, among other programs. Condon finds excitement in being the underdog, being about to go out and compete with nothing to lose and everything to win.

Condon has had a tumultuous ride since arriving at Penn, along with the rest of the team. This spring, the Quakers will be led by coach Al Monte, who is Condon's third head coach as a Quaker. Despite the challenges, though, Condon is still positive for the team's outlook this season after the team faltered at some of its races in the fall. 

“It's definitely fair to say we had some ups and downs in the fall,” Condon said. “We had a great start to the season at the Navy Day Regatta where we won. Then coming into the Princeton Chase and the Head of the Charles we had some disappointing results."

A the team's commodore, he will look to help his boat compete against some of the best opponents from around the world over the next few months. 

“Rowing is a crazy sport because there's not really an interlude between collegiate rowing and the top level," he said. "We're going up against Olympians and U-23 world-class athletes. The boat that will win at the IRA Championships will be a world-class boat that will have the potential to have an Olympic-level speed.”

In his final semester, Condon has tried to make the most of every moment on campus, in classes, hanging out with his mates, or rowing. The senior rower will graduate and conclude his academic journey at Penn in May, which he called sentimental. But after he walks the stage in his cap and gown, Condon will suit up in the Red and Blue one last time to race at the IRA National Championships. 

“It’s gonna be the last rowing race I'll ever do; I don't think I'll race after I graduate," Condon said. "Just having one more chance to row with the Penn colors on will be great. We have a big goal to hit peak fitness and speed at IRAs. I'm excited to see how much our team will approve in just this season alone.”