The Henley Royal Regatta. The River Thames. Such iconic words in the sport of crew remain far-fetched dreams for most teenage rowers around the world.
Yet racing at Henley will become a reality for nine Jesuit students this summer, which is why they’ve been spending their summer vacation – even after graduating, for most of them – heading to White Rock Lake before sunrise to work out almost every day.
“They’ve been pretty dedicated to the process of our training for the past four years,” said Jesuit crew coach John Fife. “They were really relentless in pursuing that goal.”
Henley, which takes place about 40 miles west of London, has been one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the world since it started in 1839. Jesuit will compete in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, a four-day, single-elimination tournament specifically for high school boys 8 boats, starting June 29.
It will be the first time in program history for the Rangers to send a boat to Henley, and they’ll be one of only four teams from Texas in the field. Jesuit earned its spot with a runner-up finish at the Stotesbury Cup in May in Philadelphia, the first time the Rangers have ever gotten on the podium at the world’s largest high school regatta. That’s when Fife knew they were ready.
“I was never going to take a crew to Henley unless we could be competitive and fast enough,” Fife said. “If you’re a rower, everybody wants to race at Henley. It will be a really special experience.”
Of the nine boys (including a coxswain) in the Jesuit Varsity 8 boat, five are seniors. For them, the goal of getting to Henley didn’t start this spring, but rather during their first year on campus. That’s when Fife showed the freshmen a video of perennial powerhouse Gonzaga College High School from Washington, D.C., winning the Stotesbury.
“That showed us from the beginning what it was like to win and what it would take to get to Henley,” said senior Liam McCormack. “We’ve given up Christmas breaks and spring breaks for four years toward this goal.”
Indeed, Fife said the squad has developed a sense of camaraderie and a culture of accountability through its work ethic. That was perhaps best reflected during the winter, when the Rangers were training in the weight room and on indoor machines instead of on the water.
It will be the first time competing internationally for the Jesuit rowers, who hope the exposure will help to grow their sport in Texas.
“We’re representing our state and our country,” said senior Jay Hofmeister.
Despite their inexperience on the international stage, Fife doesn’t consider the Rangers underdogs as they head to England.
“We’re not going over there as a field trip,” he said. “We’re going over there to race as well as we can.”