Phil Anastasia: Stotesbury rower goes it alone - all the way to victory

Craig Slater of New Jersey's Ranney School signals victory in the boys' single senior final on the Schuylkill. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Craig Slater of New Jersey's Ranney School signals victory in the boys' single senior final on the Schuylkill. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 20, 2012

He didn't have a coach.

He didn't have any teammates.

He didn't have a vocal cheering section in the grandstand, or a tent with barbecue grills and baskets of fruit and coolers of cold drinks along the banks of the Schuylkill.

Craig Slater was on his own Saturday at the 86th annual Stotesbury Cup Regatta.

He was by himself at the finish line, too.

"It does get lonely," Slater said of his status as a singles rower, a lone wolf among the eights and quads, fours and doubles at the world's oldest and largest high school regatta.

Rowing is a sport that fosters teamwork, from the shared sacrifice and synchronicity of the athletes in the same boat, to the vast support system that spreads out over the riverside like an occupying army - trailers, trucks, tents, and color-coordinated parents who cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and pack snacks, too.

Slater, a senior at the Ranney School in Tinton Falls in Monmouth County, N.J., didn't have any of that in his corner. He was in town with his father, also named Craig, and a few other family members.

He didn't have a coach to give him last-minute advice before the boys' single senior final. He didn't have teammates to hang out with between races.

"We have a team [at Ranney], but it's not that competitive," Slater said. "I've pretty much branched out on my own."

Slater works out at the Navesink River Racing Club in Red Bank, N.J. He is on the water most mornings at 5:15 with masters competitors Mark Malone and John Crilly.

"Those guys are kind of his coaches, although not officially," Craig Slater Sr. said.

Slater Jr. was a basketball and baseball player as a youngster. He decided to try rowing as a freshman when Ranney started a program.

"It was that or track," he said.

He is the first person in his family to row.

"He's also the first person in my family to go to college," Slater Sr. said.

The younger Slater will attend Harvard. He has a 97 average and a 2110 SAT score, but it's rowing that opened the door to the Ivy League.

"I visited Harvard when I was in sixth grade and knew I wanted to go there," Slater said. "But I never would have had the opportunity without rowing."

Like so many rowers, Slater has come to appreciate the unique demands and rewards of the sport.

"Rowing is a sport that gives you back exactly what you put in," he said. "If you're out on the water watching the sun come up and working as hard as you can, this sport will reward you for that. It's not easy, but you will get it all back from this sport."

In the singles final, Slater was in third place with about 350 meters to go in the 2,000-meter race.

"I said, 'That's it. I'm going to give it everything I have,' " Slater said. "I got to the finish line, and I had to look left and right. I didn't even know what happened.

"When I realized I had won, I was like, 'Oh, my God. I did it. I won Stotesbury.' "

He was all alone, same as always, and it was splendid isolation.


Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @PhilAnastasia. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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