Four for Germany

Posted: August 15, 2007

For one night at least, the scullers who form the lightweight quad at the stately Undine Barge Club on the Schuylkill stopped counting calories and feasted on beer, pizza and cookies.

But the spartan life of a rower doesn't allow for long celebrations. Neither does success, since there is always another more demanding challenge for the elite.

"Two days off, and we were back at it," Dan Urevick-Ackelsburg said. "It's a sport that rewards hard work and sacrifice."

Urevick-Ackelsburg, Jon D'Alba, Cody Lowry and Sam Saylor were rewarded nicely for their hard work and sacrifice when they qualified Aug. 5 at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., for the FISA World Rowing Championships.

The crew, which began rowing as a lightweight quad only in early June, is one of 26 that will represent the United States at the World Championships in Munich, Germany, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 2.

Urevick-Ackelsburg, 26, a graduate of Central High School who grew up in Germantown and is now a law student at Penn, has perused the 94-person U.S. roster and learned something that made his chest swell a bit.

"I'm the only one who was raised within our city limits on the team," he said. "It gives me a lot of pride."

Urevick-Ackelsburg is not the only area rower on the boat. D'Alba, 24, is a native of Berwyn who rowed for Conestoga High School and graduated from George Washington University. Lowry, 28, is from Bristow, Okla., and Saylor, 25, from San Diego, but both are now rooted at Undine, where they are coached by Joe Quaid.

Among the four, Urevick-Ackelsburg seemed the most unlikely to reach such a high level of the demanding sport. His only rowing experience before pulling oars at Undine came at tiny Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. Even though he grew up closer to the Schuylkill than his crew mates, his high school had no rowing program. At Macalester, he said, the sport was more recreational than competitive.

"When I came to Undine after college [in 2003] I still really stunk," said Urevick-Ackelsbrug, who works for the Reinvestment Fund in Center City. "When I was in college I won one race, and that was against some tiny schools in Minnesota. Usually, I got clobbered."

But Urevick-Ackelsburg refused to get discouraged. He met Lowry while rowing for the Minneapolis Rowing Club. Lowry was a lightweight. Urevick-Ackelsburg, at the time, was "a 180-pound fat guy." In lightweight competition, the rowers in a boat must average no more than 154.3 pounds and no rower can exceed 159.8 pounds.

"Cody encouraged me to try out as a lightweight, so when I moved back to Philly, that's what I did," he said. "If I had gone to a college that was serious about rowing, they probably would have tried to turn me into a lightweight and I probably would have quit. I wasn't ready to make that commitment."

In the uncertain world of rowing, crews frequently come together by circumstance. Such is the case with the Undine quad.

They had actually planned to row together last year, but Urevick-Ackelsburg and Lowry made the U.S. team in lightweight doubles. Meantime, D'Alba and Saylor made it in the lightweight eight boat. Neither boat won a medal at the World Championships in Eton, England, but they were high-caliber scullers and they were all rowing under the Undine banner.

"I don't think Dan expected to make the national team in doubles last year," said D'Alba, who works for Urban Engineers Inc. in Center City. "Then we thought he would make it this year and didn't. So this was our best opportunity to row together."

Said Urevick-Ackelsburg, "We didn't make it, so we were trying to figure out what to do for the summer. Jon and Sam are both Undine guys with a lot of talent. We were basically going to give it a few weeks and see how it went. If it went well, we'd keep going. It went well."

D'Alba, who joined with some high school friends to start the rowing program at Conestoga, said the foursome expected to make the national team because "we felt we had the talent and the strength."

Training together at Undine was the key, he added.

"There are a lot of ideas on technique in rowing, but with the four of us at Undine, we all row the same way," D'Alba said. "But I think the best thing about our situation is it's a very relaxed atmosphere, and we all get along very well. Plus, we've all been at the worlds before, so we won't be in awe of the situation."


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

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