Save Stanford Rowing

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In an open letter to the Stanford community on July 8, 2020, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Persis Drell, and Bernard Muir announced the discontinuation of 11 varsity sports after the 2020-2021 academic year. The athletes, alumni, coaches, and donors directly impacted were not consulted about these cuts, and the teams were informed of this decision on a Zoom Webinar that was announced only 30 minutes prior. The primary reason cited for this discontinuation was financial stress due to a building debt compounded by COVID-19. Stanford also stated that this decision is “final” and is not allowing teams to fundraise the money needed to sustain themselves. However, two of the teams cut, Women’s Lightweight Rowing and Men’s Rowing, are not willing to accept this decision without opening the discussion about the chance to maintain their varsity status.

Stanford Rowing has achieved great success and continues to be competitive on the national and Olympic level. Stanford Lightweight Rowing has won 9 out of the 10 national titles in the last decade, and Stanford Men’s Rowing has been represented by 18 rowers at the Olympics, winning 13 Olympic medals. In addition to achieving athletic excellence, the two teams play an active role in campus life and succeed in the classroom.

The university’s only proposed compromise is the option of continuing on as a club sport. However, this is not a justifiable choice as club status prohibits the two teams from qualifying and competing in their National Championship (the IRA Regatta). This regatta only allows varsity-level teams to compete. In short, the elimination of these varsity programs would remove these Stanford teams from achieving the same caliber of success. Stanford is known globally for being a stronghold in academic and athletic success and for producing well-rounded and high level graduates with many strengths. This cut calls that identity into question by stripping more than 240 athletes from their varsity sports and forcing them to now choose between a Stanford degree or the opportunity to finish their collegiate athletic careers that Stanford promised.

The impact of this decision reaches far past Stanford rowers. Many youth rowers look up to Stanford and the opportunities the school has provided on both an academic and athletic level. Removing Stanford from that calculus will change many young athlete's trajectories and has the potential to encourage other institutions to follow suit and further limit opportunities for youth. As a dominant rowing program on the West coast and leaders in the IRA, the discontinuation of these two teams jeopardizes the Olympic sport at a junior, collegiate, and postgraduate level.

The Stanford Women’s Lightweight and Men’s Rowing teams and the sport of rowing deserve more than this. This is merely a small crab in the middle of a 2k race. We ask you, our fellow Stanford students, family members, friends, and alumni to pick up an oar and join us in the head-to-head fight to reinstate our team and save Stanford rowing. We can win this race if we are all in it together. 

Thank you for your support and signing our petition! Here are some next steps to continue your assistance:

  1. Sign and share this petition.
  2. Visit www.savestanfordrowing.com, the home of this movement, and sign up for the mailing list. 
  3. Follow the Instagram (@savestanfordrowing), Facebook (@savestanfordrowing), and Twitter (@savestanfordrow).
  4. Contact current and past members of the Men’s and Lightweight Rowing Team for more suggestions and if you would like to join our campaign. 
  5. Read the testimonials below to further understand the impact of this team on the athletes, coaches, and alumni. 

- Stanford Rowing

Testimonials:

“Rowers are traditionally very tall. At 5’4”, I am not. But I was powerful, and after banging at the door of national team camps they finally let me in. My first thought was “why do I want to be there if they don't want me?” The Stanford Lightweight Rowing coaches saw the potential I was still searching for in myself, and they did not waver in that support. It was an absolute rock, and it led me to three world records, six national teams, and a pursuit of Tokyo 2021. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Stanford Rowing, the people I have met and the places it has allowed me to go.” -Christine Cavallo ‘17, Lightweight Women’s Rowing Captain

“My disability doesn't define me, Stanford rowing does. Just over a decade ago, I had an accident that left me blind in my right eye. I was 10 years old at the time and every day since I have worn an artificial ‘glass’ eye. Forced to give up many sports, I spent 2 years adrift before I found solace in rowing. The camaraderie and support of my teammates uplifted me. It allowed me to see myself in a new light - beyond my disability. It gave me purpose and direction. A few years into rowing, one of my coaches died in an accident on the river where I trained, and by the end of senior year of high school, there would only be me and one cox who remained in our class. When it came to being recruited, many coaches decided I wasn’t worth the effort. A more conventional rower would be better suited for their teams.  Stanford men’s rowing saw beyond this, recruiting me and giving me a chance to excel. Stanford rowing is a place where I can row and study at the highest level possible. But it is also so much more. It has pushed me outside of the bubble that I grew up in, to meet and learn from a wide range of people that have challenged me to become not only a better rower but also a better person. Training everyday at the varsity level for Stanford among the most committed and perseverant students I have ever met is a true honor. I’m proud to stay that being a member of Stanford men’s rowing defines me more than a disability ever could. To go to the national championship as a varsity athlete and wear the Stanford S on your chest is an experience that every man and woman who came through the doors of the boathouse remembers. I hope that I and others will be able to continue that legacy.” -Nick Mayhew ‘22, Men’s Rowing

“I truly believe in the power of education through athletics and the importance of the student-athlete experience in developing character. Stanford Lightweight Rowing is a community of women who understand that the pursuit of excellence is a path that teaches us how to live, more so than just do. I am inspired by this team on a daily basis as they consistently demonstrate passion, empathy and courage." -Kate Bertko, Head Coach, Lightweight Women’s Rowing

“I had no idea what to expect when walking onto Stanford Men’s Rowing. Although the idea of being just one of two girls on an otherwise all male team sounded like an exciting challenge, it was certainly intimidating. The perception I had garnered of most male spaces, including male sports teams, was, up to this point, not necessarily positive. They often seemed an especially unwelcoming space for women. Stanford Men’s Crew proved me wrong. Within the first few weeks of being on the team, I quickly realized that I now had almost 30 brothers who would encourage and support me every day to be the best person I can be, both on and off the water. The dedication and hard work, athletically and academically, as well as the commitment to interpersonal accountability that these men demonstrate is something I truly admire. Being both a team member and leader in a predominantly male space has proved to be an empowering experience every day. In the future I hope to work in politics, and I know that the collaboration and communication skills I have developed in this, traditionally, unfamiliar space are incredibly beneficial. Furthermore, despite differences in my background and journey getting there, Stanford Men’s Rowing has become a community that will remain part of me throughout my life. It has already granted me lifelong friendships and I know the world will have stronger leaders and be a better place with years of SMC alums to come.” -Valeria Gonzalez ‘23, Men’s Coxswain

“Although I have only experienced (almost) one year of being a Stanford Lightweight, I can wholeheartedly say that these are my people. This team and these coaches are the most tenacious, hardworking, determined, and supportive group of women. Waking up at 5am, putting in the hard work and countless meters of effort before the sun is even up, is a pretty incredible way to start the day. Rowing has taught me about grit, determination, and perseverance. I have learned that it may seem more difficult to stay in the tough moments, but it's more meaningful to finish out every last piece with the team. Rowing and the Lights have taught me that we have the willingness and ability to look at seemingly insurmountable challenges and not back down. Whether these challenges are painful ergs, tight races, or fighting to save the team that means everything to you-- we don’t back down, we rise up. As a female athlete and teammate, I believe wholeheartedly that this sport is the most incredible way to challenge yourself, foster the most meaningful relationships, and grow up to be a strong and confident leader. I look at my teammates, as well as my competitors, and I know that these are women who will change the world for the better because of our passionate belief in the power of a collective effort. I believe we have earned the opportunity to rise up and finish out the four years that Stanford committed to us and we have, in turn, promised them. I believe that our legacy at Stanford should inspire young female athletes to persevere, even in the most challenging of times, and strive to be a student-athlete representing excellence in all aspects of their lives.” -Kelly Niethamer ‘23,  Lightweight Women’s Rowing


"My years at Stanford were the time that I developed my sense for an individual's duty to and their presence within communities greater than themselves. Whether that community be my family, my school, my company or my country I've developed deep rooted beliefs about my responsibility to have unwavering loyalty to the few things that I dedicate myself to. Loyalty to me does not mean to follow blindly, but to care deeply, to challenge decisions and to fight for what you know is best for that organization and those who live inside of it. Inexorably connected to these beliefs is my experience with Stanford Men's Rowing. Rowing is an exercise in understanding yourself and your relationship to others. You work for thousands of hours over the course of a year with the goal of completely and utterly depleting your body of every ounce of energy it has in under six minutes; and ultimately, with the goal of doing that more efficiently than the other groups of nine people next to you, competing against you, working to accomplish the same exact goal. The simplicity of the sport means your success is driven by your group's collective work ethic and its ability to cooperate. Winning is exhilarating and losing makes you look at yourself with devastating honesty, an exercise that we seldom get the chance to do. More than anything, I'm thankful for the opportunities rowing has given me to look at the world without it being altered by the narratives we tell ourselves every day to make ourselves, our families, our schools, our companies or our countries feel better about their place in the world. This accountability, honesty and dedication to a cause was the lynchpin for my successful development during four years at Stanford. In the past, I've wondered why the rowing team had different experiences than some other members of our graduating class who did not come to a similar understanding of self and community. However, as I reflect on this experience the answer is clear, the lack of belonging to an organization that mandates extreme ownership and a passion to work for that organization rather than for yourself significantly diminishes the development of responsibility to others above responsibility to self." -Ryan O'Rourke ‘17, Men's Rowing Co-Captain