Cascadilla Boat Club: 40 years of promoting rowing

By Will LeBlond
Tompkins Weekly

Photo by Frank Lee
Ben Cooke, at the far left of the boat talking into the microphone, is a coxswainfor a Cascadilla Boat Club boat.

Lacrosse may be known as the nation’s fastest growing sport and baseball is America’s pastime, but rowing is finding its way into the spotlight.
The Cascadilla Boat Club, however, has been way ahead of the curve.

The club has been around since 1977, when a group of local professionals “wanted to make the sport of rowing available to all members of the community.” Now, in 2017, there is a solid stable of young athletes that compete for CBC, but the age ranges widely for the club. A masters program for the club has seen competitors in their 70s dip the oar into the water and power the boat forward.
“I think rowing in Ithaca has a pretty deep tradition,” said Marty Van der Heide, the director of rowing for the club. “I think Cascadilla has been instrumental in bringing it to middle schoolers and high schoolers and also masters rowers. There really aren’t many rowing programs in the Southern Tier like that.”

The tradition lives on for younger members of the club as well. Ben Cooke, who is a senior at Ithaca High School and is a coxswain on the varsity team, found his love for the sport through a familiar face.
“My dad was actually a rower when Cascadilla Boat Club was founded,” said Cooke. “When he heard that they had done a demo at DeWitt Middle School Gym, he told me I had to sign up and I’ve been loving it ever since.”

Rowing can be a love and hate relationship though for members of the club, as the training for the sport can be very intense with so many physical rigors involved in the process of moving the boat across the water at high speeds.
With the majority of the rowers from Ithaca and other surrounding towns, there aren’t many issues with them getting in rowing shape at the club’s local facilities.
“Rowing is pretty difficult in that it requires endurance and power. There’s a lot of high intensity interval workouts, but we also do a lot of low intensity endurance workouts,” said Van der Heide. “One of the key components for us is winter training. We train four days a week up at Cornell. We do a lot of running, stairs and erging, which is the indoor rowing machine.”

It’s not just intense training, but there’s also careful attention to detail shown by the local athletes. With the different members of the team in the same boat, led by the coxswain, everyone truly needs to pull on the same rope to find success.
“If you want to do well, you really have to row as a crew consistently,” said Cooke. “There are sports like running where you can train on your own, but if you really want to make progress, you need to train with your teammates. That can require up to nine people being there every day to work consistently at getting the boat faster.”

The hard work showed in mid-May for CBC when they won five medals at the New York State High School Rowing Championships in Saratoga Springs. The club had a Novice 8 boat finish second overall for the second straight year and the Novice Men’s Four boat won bronze in clubs. After that, the club’s Junior Women’s Eight boat finished third in club teams, the Varsity-2 boat in Men’s Eights won silver and the Varsity-1 secured a bronze.

More accolades continued to prove the success of the club, but CBC is always looking to grow and they have reason to believe that some big years could be on the way.
“When I started, not a lot of people knew about it and it was kind of cultish,” said Cooke. “Over the past few years, our incoming crews have gotten bigger and bigger and I think it’s really starting to get a huge amount of respect at the high school level.”

CBC will look to continue to grow the sport during National Learn to Row Day on Saturday, June 3. They will teach a clinic from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. that day at their location at the end of Stewart Park in Ithaca.