Seth Weil - 2015 USRowing Male Athlete of the Year – Has Rowed from Bottom to Top

by Ed Moran, | Oct 05, 2015
In his time as a rower, Seth Weil has seen the sport from just about every level. From a novice walkon at the University of California, Davis, Weil made has made his way through collegiate crew, to training alone in the single and club rowing on the East Coast and finally to the United States national team.
weil01In his time as a rower, Seth Weil has seen the sport from just about every level. From a novice walkon at the University of California, Davis, Weil made has made his way through collegiate crew, to training alone in the single and club rowing on the East Coast and finally to the United States national team.

During those years, Weil crossed the finish line with results that could have been defeating, to results that would keep him working towards the coming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. He has been dead last in the single at the Head of the Charles and he has stood on the top of the podium in international racing.

And through it all, he has maintained what he sees as an almost “childlike” characteristic that keeps him moving forward, never complacent with where he is. He said it’s one of the many lessons he has learned during his path in rowing, one of the more important ones.  

“A big one for me has been to always remain curious about how to get better,” Weil said. “It’s very much like a childish sort of thing, to always remain intrigued by how to get better, whether it’s physiological or technical. Whatever it is, figuring out how to maintain curiosity is essential, at least for me. It’s the only way it stays dynamic and interesting.”

It’s a lesson that has apparently worked for him. After being invited to the USRowing Training Center in Princeton, New Jersey in 2013, Weil has been a fixture in the men’s four, a priority boat for the U.S. men’s national team. He won a bronze in 2013 and silver in 2014 at the world championships and won a World Rowing Cup gold in Varese, Italy this spring.

And after helping to qualify the boat class for Rio at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France this summer, Weil was voted the 2015 USRowing Male Athlete of the Year by his teammates and coaches.

“It’s really humbling,” Weil said of the honor. “It’s really cool. I never even thought about it until the results came out. I am in awe of the whole thing. I never anticipated anything like that happening.

Weil will be presented the award at the Golden Oars Awards Dinner, Nov. 19, at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

weil1 (1)For Weil, of Menlo Park, Calif., the journey in rowing began at U.C. – Davis as an undergraduate walkon. A club team that, as Weil puts it “takes, everybody and anybody.” He rowed and trained there for six years and then went out on his own, rowing the single and training at New York Athletic Club and the Penn Athletic Club Rowing Association in Philadelphia. In 2013, he was invited to USTC – Princeton and has been on the national team in the four since then. And the years have flown by, he said.

“So far, it has been an incredible blur. It’s happened so fast,” Weil said. “But when I look back on the milestones that I have been a part of – I’ve done everything from being dead last at Head of the Charles, or winning a world cup – it’s just incredible that I can be part of the sport that allows me to take a path like that.

“I’ve gotten to learn all of the lessons that you inevitably have to learn along the way. There are just very few sports that would give you those kinds of opportunities,” he said. “And then on top of that, I get to do it all with other people. It’s not an individual pursuit. I not only get to learn all these lessons, but I learn then all surrounded by people who are doing similar things. It’s kind of a surreal environment in that respect.”

And he has made contributions to that environment.

“Seth made an immediate impact and raised the standard when he joined our group in 2013 and he has been a driver ever since,” said men’s coach Bryan Volpenhein. “He is a competitive racer, but is very conscience and thoughtful about his rowing. He's also fun to be around and has been great for the team mojo.”

weil2 (1)For Weil, the lessons of the past three seasons have been about both success and disappointment. Coming from a silver medal performance at the 2013 world championships, followed by gold at the second world cup this spring, the four was favored to not just reach the final in Aiguebelette, but medal.

But a virus that spread through the team infected two of the crew, forcing one, Charlie Cole, to be substituted out in the semifinal. The four missed the final. Cole returned in time for the B final and the mindset among the crew made it a must win moment.

“It was just tough, obviously, because we had really high expectations,” Weil said. “We had a lot of belief in our boat and we really wanted to prove to ourselves that this belief was founded. And then some things happened and we ended up in the B final. I think there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind what had to happen in the B final, from the standpoint of we still had things to prove.

“When the boat was back together, we still felt like we had something to prove. With how we thought about it, and all the training we’ve done, and all the rowing we worked on, there was really no other option. We had to win that final and that’s how everyone went in.”

They did win, and the victory secured the U.S. could race the boat class in Rio. And maybe, Weil said, the finish will be a catalyst to a podium appearance in Rio.

“The way that I’m thinking about it, and the team has spent countless hours talking about and discussing it, is that we have to think somehow if that seventh place finish makes us better for the Olympics, better than we would have been, then it will be worth it. And, I think that’s possible. Everyone is trying to wrap their brains around making that a reality.”

Having to race without the correct lineup and with crewmembers recovering from a virus was not easy, he said.

weil3 (1)“But at the end of the day, you’re only as good as your last result. All that stuff is part of sport. But by the same token, we really try not to be an excuse-oriented operation and so we have to, at some level, own that result. There are a lot of if and or buts, but at the end of the day, that’s how good we are. We are the seventh best team in the world and the only way to prove otherwise is to do better, and that’s it. There is defiantly a lot of leeway and back and fourth, but that’s the brass tack of things.”

When asked to reflect on what rowing has taught him about himself and about what it takes to be successful in life, Weil said it was hard to reflect back on something he is still immersed in. But there have been life lessons learned, like staying curious, and developing the “habits” and work ethics it takes to achieve a goal rather than just chasing one.

 “It’s really tricky to seek the result that you want first and then hope that that leads to the habits. It doesn’t work like that. For me, I really have to try and establish the habits and the actions that make me the best athlete I can be and then I just hope, that if I’ve done my research and paid my dues, in the end that will get me the result that I want.

“The natural tendency is for a team to be externally motivated, and that’s good for at least one win, but if you want to be consistently good and win a lot, you have to develop internal metrics that hold you to a high standard. The natural cycle of doing well and getting complacent is just too powerful if you don’t have hard limits to hold the standard that you want to hold the team to.

“It really gives you a perspective that if you want to do something well, it’s just going to take an insane amount of effort. And that’s not just for sport. It’s true for anything. If someone had laid out the path for me for rowing when I started, had said ‘Hey look, this is what it’s going to take, this is the path it’s going to have to take, this is how long it’s going to take, and the work required, at my age it would probably have been too daunting. I probably would have said I was not capable of doing that.

“But you learn that when you get started and begin chipping away at something, it’s rewarding to continue. That, I think, is one really important thing I have learned from rowing.”

Tickets for the Golden Oars Awards Dinner are on sale now. Go ticket sales and full event information go here.
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