Take 5: Austin Velte, Yale senior rower and Ivy League Cup champ
Austin Velte couldn’t have asked for a better final race.
Earlier this May, the senior captain with the Yale University rowing team led his eights crew to a sweep of the Ivy League Championships. It marked Yale’s first league title since 2002 — long before the part-time Summit County local and native of Philadelphia joined the Yale eights — and earned the team an invite to the United Kingdom this coming week for the Henley Royal Regatta, where they’ll go boat-to-boat against a few of the biggest, baddest, most prestigious clubs in the university rowing scene on the fabled Thames River.
“It’s a super-unique regatta, with head-to-head, single-elimination style racing,” said Velte, who currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut and travels to Summit every summer to live with his mother. “It’s very formal, very English, but a lot of fun.”
But, until then, Velte will revel in on hell of a senior season. He graduated with an economics degree and wins against every Ivy League powerhouse — Cornell, Columbia, Princeton — to make four long years of two-a-day workouts and late-night study sessions more than worth it.
Shortly before leaving for the UK on June 19, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Velte to hear more about the Ivy League title, his summer training waters on Lake Dillon and why the Olympics aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Summit Daily News: You just finished the Ivy League rowing season with a huge win. How did things pan out for your team this spring?
Austin Velte: It was a very, very good year for us. We had a very strong team from top to bottom. I think we surpassed a lot expectations from the beginning of the season, surpassing goals we set for ourselves. The varsity boat and second varsity boat won the Ivy League Championships and the overall team won the Jope Cup, which is basically (awarded for) placing third, second and first eights at the Ivy League Championships.
SDN: Is this the first time you’ve won the league title in your career?
AV: We won the Jope Cup my freshman year, but the last time the varsity won the Ivy League was 2002. It’s been a while. I honestly couldn’t ask for a better way to end my career rowing for Yale. As freshman we won the Ivy League Cup with our freshman boat, so it kind of bookends our career as a team of eight. It was just a great way to end.
SDN: You also graduated this season after four years on the same team. Is your role in the boat the same as when you started as a freshman?
AV: Freshman year is a big change of pace from high school rowing: the practices are more intense, the physical work volume is higher, the skill level of the technical orwing is higher, so a lot of that first year is catching up to the sport at the collegiate level. The sophomore and junior year you get familiar with the demands of the team and find your role there. At the end of my junior year I was elected captain and that really became a big role for me on the team. As captain, you work closely with the coaching staff for scheduling, the training program, mediating any issues with other athletes or even coaches — a lot of behind-the-scenes details that I hadn’t dealt with before.
SDN: Did you enjoy that side of things, the behind-the-scenes work?
AV: I really did. I think I got a lot out of it. I talked about this a lot with my coach, and one thing that happened for me this year was wearing a lot of different hats. I was looking out for the performance of the overall team, then I was wearing the varsity hat — keeping an eye on that boat — and then my own personal performance. There was a lot going on, but I think I really got a lot out of being captain. It’s an elected position and it was really a great feeling to be elected. I have very close bonds with everyone on the team, from freshman to my class, and knowing that they trusted me gave me what I needed to push myself and do my best.
SDN: Talk about your ties to collegiate rowing: When and why did you decide this is something you wanted to pursue?
AV: I started rowing my freshman year of high school and it really wasn’t until halfway through my junior year that I considered seriously rowing for college. My high school program was very competitive and every year sends athletes to top college programs, so there was a track in place for me to do that. It wasn’t until my junior year that I got serious about my training and saw where it could take me.
SDN: It can’t be easy to balance academics with athletics at Yale. Did you ever fall into a groove?
AV: I wouldn’t be able to sacrifice as much as I have and put as much effort into it if I didn’t enjoy the sport itself. It’s a very challenging sport, but it’s also a very rewarding sport. The things I’ve learned from rowing over the past eight years will go beyond the sport itself. I see rowing staying in my life — maybe recreational rowing or coaching on the side — in some shape or form. I’ll definitely stay involved.
SDN: How did living in Summit and rowing on Lake Dillon prepare you for the next level?
AV: The summer after my freshman year at Yale I lived in Summit County with a friend and we rowed on Lake Dillon almost every morning. It’s a different feel on that lake. All the rowing we do here, out east, is on narrow rivers. They have different water than a lake. There (at Dillon) isn’t a Point A to Point B thing — it’s just wherever you feel like going. The weather can also be challenging. You have to get out there early before the wind and thunderstorms pick up.
SDN: It’s an Olympic season. Is that on your mind at all: the possibility of making the U.S. Olympic team?
AV: It was something I considered for a while. I think that ever since I was serious about rowing — back in late high school and beginning of college — I saw the national team as something I wanted to do. Last summer I competed at the under-23 National Championships and that was incredible. I really enjoyed that.
As far as Olympics, I would very much enjoy pursuing that, but I think at this point I’m graduating in an awkward period. The Olympic boats for 2016 have already been decided, and the way the system works is you have to commit to several years in the training cycle to make an Olympic boat. If I were to try pursuing that I’d need to commit four years to the 2020 Olympics, and, right now, that just doesn’t seem like something I want to put a ton of time into. After eight years I’ve committed a lot to this sport and invested a lot of time into it.
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