Row the Boat: Dan Martin ready for new role as sole head coach of GVSU Rowing

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Sean Cauvet, Staff Reporter

The oldest sport on Grand Valley State University’s campus has a new leader at the helm, as the GVSU Rowing Club Team has promoted former co-head coach Dan Martin to be its lone head coach.

Last year, veteran Rowing Club Team Head Coach John Bancheri left his post to be the head coach of his alma mater, Stockton University, leaving a substantial void. Assistant head coaches Dan Martin and Costas Ciungan teamed up to fill the gap last season, but now Martin will be taking over full-time.

Dan Martin was hired as head coach in August with one goal in mind: recruitment.

“Our main focus is growing the program,” Martin said.  “This is a sport that most people don’t have access to in high school so we rely on developing athletes, teaching them the sport, and then making them good athletes and eventually good rowers.”

As of now, they only have enough rowers on the varsity level to fill out one boat, but Martin is hoping that changes.

“Where we want to go is to build the program back up to where we have three boats on the men’s and women’s teams,” Martin said. “Our biggest challenge right now is ramping up the recruiting, getting the word out and making our presence felt on campus in a very positive and energetic way so that people want to come out and do this crazy thing.”

Martin says that getting the word out is only half the battle because rowing is unlike many other sports.

“The reason we have to put so much effort into recruiting is because it’s an unnatural motion for so many people,” Martin said. “Basketball, soccer, football, field hockey all have the same basic skills, but on the rowing team we’re asking you to do a horizontal deadlift while you’re hanging onto a 13-foot long pole.”

Given the uniqueness and difficulty of rowing, Martin says that many of the recruits come from other sports.

“A lot of kids play sports in high school but want to try something new in college. We find many people that are looking for an athletic experience and a high-level athletic experience, but in a different sport,” Martin said. “Often times we find that our best athletes at the end of four years were the ones that were coming in with an extensive athletic background, outside of rowing.”

Martin loves rowing because it  is easy to get better by putting in the work.

“I tried a lot of different sports before I settled on rowing,” Martin said. “I fell in love with how far the effort you put into getting better at rowing got you. You don’t have to have tremendous athletic gifts or be built like Cam Newton. If you show up and put in a lot of hard work, you can be really, really good.”

Another thing that Martin liked was the different people he was exposed to and how the sport changed him.

“It was the first time I was surrounded by people who were really focused on something athletic,” Martin said. “All through high school I was the quiet nerd in the corner. I always had my nose in a book and was obnoxious about knowing everything. Then I started rowing and was introduced to people who weren’t like that at all and I actually became a better human because of it. It’s not even the camaraderie I got from working with my teammates for hours on end that was the best part,  we’ve been best man in each other’s weddings and we’ll be pallbearers at each other’s funerals. It’s a life-long bond.”

Being a club team means that the rowers pay to be on the team, but the GVSU Rowing Team, similar to Martin’s Alma Mater the University of Virginia, is going up against other schools with varsity parties.

“In my first year as a collegiate rower at the University of Virginia, I was competing against guys that were literally getting paid to do what I’m paying dues to have the chance to do,” Martin said. “We’re going up against scholarship athletes and we’re not hoping to win but expecting to win. The best part for me was looking across at the scholarship athletes and saying to myself: I am a club athlete. You are being taken care of by the university in ways that I can’t even imagine, but I’m still going to beat you because I want it more. Having that sense of pride in your team and what you can do is a source of power for us. I give a lot of credit to the University of Virginia for getting me to understand that on a really visceral level.”

The new-look Rowing Club Team, which includes men and women, will start its new season with Dan Martin at the helm in Oct.