Washington, still mourning late rower, wins varsity eight crown at college championships

Washington's varsity eight celebrate their win on the Cooper River. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Washington's varsity eight celebrate their win on the Cooper River. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 04, 2012

In the final stretch Saturday, the fans of the University of Washington boat cheered their team home. They knew they were seconds from gripping the national championship, their second in as many years.

"We're cooking," senior coxswain Sam Ojserkis told his teammates.

As they crossed the last leg of the 2,000-meter varsity eight grand finals, the Huskies rowed past those lining the Cooper River in Cherry Hill, past the fans and the giant TV monitor and the P.A. announcer.

Finally, at the finish line, where Washington edged Brown by about 2 seconds and Harvard by 3, the Huskies drifted past the designated area where their families and teammates watched from the side.

There, in a section ringed by a chain-link fence, stood Pat Marre, five-seat, junior varsity. Marre, like every Husky, wore a patch on his right breast about the size of a silver dollar displaying the initials "WPA," and the notation: 1990-2011.

The skies were clear Saturday afternoon for the conclusion of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta, much as they were that day in early September, when Marre hiked near the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington's Cascade Range with William Peter Allen. They walked six miles that day. But to get to the peak, Marre and Allen needed to climb about 300 feet.

Allen was halfway to the top when he grabbed a rock for support. It collapsed. Marre didn't see his friend fall, but he heard the impact. He waited with Allen for two hours before a helicopter lifted him out.

Marre tried to keep his hopes high that day, tried to tell himself everything was going to be OK. But he knew he was lying. He knew Allen was dead.

Ojserkis, from South Jersey's Mainland Regional High, found out through a phone call. That day, everyone on the team heard, one way or another. The athletic department offered counseling to anyone who wanted it.

But three weeks later, when classes began, the Huskies returned to training. And Washington's varsity eight reeled off nine straight victories, culminating in Saturday's win.

The Huskies finished in 5:21.48, a Cooper River record that secured Washington's second straight national title, and fourth in six years.

"Pete's death brought us together," Marre said. "It made us a stronger crew. He was such a great guy, the type of guy you liked instantly. And we dedicated the whole season to him."

As Marre watched from the side of the river, junior Sam Dommer pulled the varsity eight home from the three-seat.

The night before Allen died, he ate dinner with Dommer. Allen asked him to hike the next day, but Dommer declined. Allen was always a hard worker, always waking up at 5 a.m. to read his Bible.

They met as freshmen in 2009. Friends persuaded Allen to try out for the rowing team because he looked the part. He was 6-feet-4, and about 215 pounds, and he played basketball and football in high school.

The next year, though, he didn't return to the team. Neither did Dommer. But by spring semester 2011, they were lifting weights together, usually after Allen dragged Dommer to the gym, he said. They made a pact: We're both rejoining the team.

Then, the night of Sept. 5, Dommer's roommates told him the news: Allen just died.

"It was surreal," Dommer said. "We hung out the whole night before. To be with someone all the time, it's hard to convince yourself he isn't coming back. Everyone on this team rallied around his memory. We've treated every day like it's our last."

The win by the Washington varsity eight capped a perfect day for the school. The Huskies also claimed the grand finals in the other four divisions, including the JV group, with whom Marre rowed.

Allen's parents and three brothers are still connected to the team. They come to some races, and the school named a boat after Allen. Sometimes, Marre said, he meets the family for lunch.

About a year before he died, Allen told Marre he became a Christian. So on a triumphant day, Marre lifted his eyes to the clear sky.

"Thank you, Pete," he said. "Thank you."

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