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Craftsbury Sculling Center Creates an Atmosphere for High Level Training

by Luke Reynolds, lukereynolds@usrowing.org | Jun 26, 2014
Elizabeth Sonshine and Emily Dreissigacker were just getting ready to climb into the Craftsbury Sculling Center van and head back to the team’s hotel after winning their heat on Mercer Lake.

Elizabeth Sonshine and Emily Dreissigacker were just getting ready to climb into the Craftsbury Sculling Center van and head back to the team’s hotel after winning their heat on Mercer Lake.

The van has been making the trip from the hotel to the race course on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J. all week. With a small army of athletes, all wearing distinctive neon yellow and green racing unis, the athletes from the Vermont based training center have been a familiar sight at the Finn M.W. Caspersen Rowing Center where they have won some big races in three different events at two different regattas.

With 20 entries spread out across the 18 events at the 2014 USRowing National Championship, Craftsbury “brought the whole fleet” according to Director of Competitive Sculling, Dan Rook.

“Between the trials (Under 23 and Senior World Championship Trials) and then this race, we’re just trying to give people who appear to have potential, that will someday be good at it, a chance,” Rook said. “Our top of the line guys have sort of reached that goal by making the National Team.”

Craftsbury Sculling Center is not the only arm of the Craftsbury name. Started in 1976 by Russell Spring and his family, the center was created by renovating a former boarding school. Sculling and running camps were soon organized after renovations were complete and the center has been a mecca for sports training and outdoor activities since.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Sonshine said. “I think we are all really lucky to be there. With our free time we get to help around the outdoor center and make it as great as we can.”

After this week, Craftsbury will have had more than 30 races in two different regattas. At the 2014 Under 23 Craftsbury took two first place finishes in the Under 23 Men’s quadruple sculls and double sculls as well as two second place finishes in the men’s lightweight pair and lightweight single. This has been the trend all spring with Craftsbury winning in the men’s single and double sculls at the 2014 National Selection Regattas.

This is the sort of thing USRowing relies on — private centers producing high level athletes that will hopefully feed into the National Team. Craftsbury is a representation of this, according to Curtis Jordan, USRowing Director of High Performance.

“With USRowing focusing on a limited number of boats and allowing more events to be selected through trials, a larger portion of the athlete base can be supported through clubs and their communities,” Jordan said.

“As with many of these successful High Performance Clubs, it is the vision, generosity and passion of a few people who make it happen. Judy Geer and Dick Dreissigacker, along with their coaching staff, have created a program that has quickly become one of the best environments for athletes to develop to the Elite level.”

In 2008 Dreissigacker and Geer purchased the center and turned it into a non-profit organization. One of the missions of the newly reorganized Craftsbury is “to use and teach sustainable practices” according to the website – and that’s where the center’s neon green racing uniforms come from. According to Geer and Rook, in addition to rowing, the athletes raise chickens, work in gardens and help with other projects to keep the center running.

“Our skiing team call themselves the Green Racing Project. So you’ve got this group started, the skiers sort of came up with the idea, the concept of having a high performance training center, where you have just resident athletes. But then you kind of work to support all the other aspects of the center. So you’ve got athletes contributing to the center by labor and coaching,” Rook said.

For the rowers though, rowing comes first.

“I think the biggest thing is that we get to focus on rowing,” Emily Dreissigacker said. “I mean that’s really the priority. We do have opportunities to work but it comes second to rowing so we can always make sure that the work we do compliments the rowing. It serves as a nice distraction between practices rather than something that takes away from the rowing.”
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