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06/28/12 1:00pm
06/28/2012 1:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead rowers Dan O'Neill (left) and Erik Divan won first place at the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Championship.

There’s no escaping one bruising reality for rowers. At the start of every spring season, after spending most of the winter training comfortably indoors, the skin on the palm of their hands is shredded away by the constant pressure of gripping an oar as they pull their boat through the water.

Their hands become bloodied and blistered. Forget gloves; they only lead to hot blisters.

Eventually calluses build on their hands, a natural layer of defense that eases the pain through the rest of the season.

“I couldn’t hold my girlfriend’s hands for the first three weeks of the season,” said Riverhead High School rower Erik Divan. “We have rough hands. We have rower hands.”

It’s one of many sacrifices Divan and teammate Daniel O’Neill make in their sport, where since starting as freshmen they’ve developed into a fierce tandem. Most recently the duo won first place in the lightweight varsity double division of the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Championship while racing in Cooper River in Camden, N.J. over Memorial Day weekend.

It was the biggest win of their career so far for the pair, who both just completed their junior years at Riverhead.

“Last year we got a silver medal and it was kind of a disappointment,” O’Neill said. “We were expecting to get gold and we really wanted to make it happen this year.”

The competition began May 25 when Divan and O’Neill won the first of three heats to send them into the semifinals the next morning. Needing a top-three finish, they won their semifinal heat to advance into the finals later in the day against five other teams.

Their confidence level was high as they entered the finals after winning the previous two heats without fully exerting themselves.

Before each race they have a ritual where they stretch, warm up with a jog and then stretch some more. During that time they discuss the upcoming race, detailing the strategy they plan to use.

The less they have to communicate during the race, the more it allows them to focus on maintaining their rhythm.

As they prepared for the finals, they talked about the possibility of a team being ahead of them as they got down the final stretch. They decided if that happened, they would go into a “sprint” — a last-resort maneuver.

Divan said the margin for error increases when the rowers go into a sprint and fatigue becomes more and more prevalent. It’s something they often practice, but have rarely had to use in competition.

“We weren’t expecting to use it,” Divan said.

As Divan and O’Neill neared the final 500 meters of the 1,500-meter race, which was a straight shoot down the river, they trailed the team of Jakub Kwasniewski and Anthony Angelucci from St. Joseph Prep.

They had trailed most of the race up to that point and were running out of time.

“We planned on increasing the speed as much as we could at that stage of the race,” O’Neill said. “That’s where a lot of crews tend to fall apart and decrease in speed.”

Using every ounce of energy at their disposal, Divan and O’Neill narrowed the gap, bringing them neck and neck with the boys from St. Joseph.

As they crossed the finish line, O’Neill took a quick peek behind him to find the competition.

“It was not a large amount by any means, but I could tell that we won,” O’Neill said.

The Riverhead team navigated the river in 5 minutes 5.05 seconds. St. Joseph Prep crossed 1/2 second behind them.

“When we finally pulled ahead it was an awesome feeling,” Divan said.

The victory capped the end of the spring season and signaled the start of training for the summer season in the never-ending cycle.

In the three years they’ve been training in rowing, the boys have rarely ever taken more than a day off in a week. The training is year round, many times with multiple workouts in the same day.

It’s a grueling schedule, but one they sought out in their commitment to go as far as possible in the sport. They wanted to be pushed, wanted to be challenged.

Both O’Neill and Divan started their athletic careers as runners. O’Neill also wrestled during the winter.

But rowing was a sport they were always around. O’Neill’s older brother Eddie got into rowing and earned his way onto the team at Cornell University, where his doubles partner Eddie Gould also went. Gould will be going into his senior year at Cornell while O’Neill will be a junior.

For Divan, his father had been encouraging him to try rowing since he was in second grade. For 10 years his father had been rowing, helping him keep in shape to run marathons.

Late in their freshman year, O’Neill approached Divan about rowing together, citing all the success his brother enjoyed.

Divan jumped at the opportunity.

They spent the first year together trying out different coaches and searching for their best fit.

They found their man in Co Rentmeester, who rowed for the Dutch Olympic team in Rome in 1960.

“Co really pushes us hard,” Divan said. “He gets in a boat behind us and screams at us. It gets us better and we are able to compete successfully with schools that have a lot more money than us.”

They train as part of East End Rowing, a small club that has included students from McGann-Mercy and Shoreham-Wading River.

A typical training day for Divan and O’Neill could begin with 18 kilometers of rowing in the morning, varying in intensity. In the afternoon they’ll lift weights at the gym and build up their endurance on the ergometer, the indoor rowing machine that is a crucial part of training.

The boys hoped to compete this year at the Youth Nationals as well, which is typically a higher level of competition. Divan said more teams tend to compete at the Youth Nationals, which attracts teams from the West Coast. Divan said a technicality they overlooked cost them a chance at competing this year. Winning at that regatta will be their goal for the spring season next year.

Until then, they’re busy preparing for the summer season, with races coming up in Canada and New Jersey.

Divan and O’Neill both hope to row in college, possibly together, and the next few months will be key in the recruiting process. The boys have several Ivy League schools on the radar, including Cornell, where O’Neill’s brother competes.

For as far as they’ve come in a relatively short period, they realize there’s always room for improvement. Even Olympians don’t always have a perfect stroke, Divan said.

“The sport itself is cardio, but it’s also incredibly technical,” Divan said. “There are so many pieces to the stroke, so many different styles.”

“Nothing is guaranteed in this sport,” O’Neill added.

Except blistered hands, that is.

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11/15/11 1:59pm
11/15/2011 1:59 PM
Snowflake Regatta

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | A Riverhead rower wears a shirt Sunday made in support of Coach Al Boghard, who founded the club eight years ago. He was 82 years old when he died Tuesday morning.

As the crew teams made their way down the home stretch of the girls junior varsity 4x final at the Snowflake Regatta on the Peconic River in Riverhead Sunday, the team from Riverhead High School was easy to pick out.

They were the squad in the blue t-shirts with the words “Rowing for Coach Al” written across the front.

Al Borghard died Tuesday, two days after participants in the club he founded at Riverhead High competed in the annual regatta in his adopted hometown. He was 82.

Those who knew him well said the Calverton resident was “the father of rowing on Long Island.”

“If you’re in the rowing world, you know Al,” said Michelle Zaloom of Mattituck. “He was tireless in helping high school kids and rowers in general become better.

Fellow Blue Waves coach Ryan Greene said Sunday that Coach Al founded the club at Riverhead High eight years ago. He said the coach meant a lot to the 50 rowers from the school and the shirts Sunday were a way to show their love for the dying coach.

“They wanted to show their solidarity for Coach Al,” he said.

Ms. Zaloom said the coach was previously affiliated with the Sagamore Rowing Association, which operates out of Huntington and Oyster Bay and is Long Island’s oldest community rowing club. A Cold Spring Harbor school district boathouse is named after him. When word spread that he retired and moved to Calverton, it was a no-brainer for East End Rowing to encourage him to become a part of their group.

“When he first got involved with East End Rowing we said our only question for Al should be ‘What do you need?’” Ms. Zaloom said. “We were fortunate to have him around.”

There will be visiting hours for Al Borghard at Alexander Tuthill Funeral Home in Wading River from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. A memorial service is scheduled for noon Saturday, Nov. 26 at North Shore United Methodist Church in Wading River.

His family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Friends of Riverhead Crew, PO Box 136, Calverton, NY 11933.

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07/06/11 10:34am
07/06/2011 10:34 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Dylan Gould, left, and Ed O'Neill, both of Riverhead, qualified to compete in the 2,000-meter lightweight double sculls in the World Rowing Under-23 Championships.

Patience counts, even in the competitive world of national-class rowing.

About halfway through the 2,000-meter lightweight men’s double sculls race in the national under-23 trials last Wednesday, two boats were ahead of the one rowed by Dylan Gould and Ed O’Neill. A spot on the United States under-23 national team awaited the winning boat. But Gould and O’Neill, both of Riverhead, didn’t panic. They didn’t rush. They had a game plan, and they stuck to it.

At about the 1,250-meter mark, Gould and O’Neill went into sprint mode. “We just went as hard as we could,” said Gould.

They took the lead with some 500 meters remaining. By the time there were 200 meters left, “we knew we had it as long as we didn’t screw up,” said O’Neill.

They didn’t screw up.

Gould and O’Neill crossed the finish line at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J., in 6 minutes 37.54 seconds, winning by 3.2 seconds. In doing so, they became one of 15 crews that earned berths on the under-23 national team, and with it the right to represent the United States at the 2011 World Rowing Under-23 Championships that will be held July 21-24 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

“We made the international stage,” said O’Neill.

It has been quite a ride for the 19-year-old Cornell University rowers, who had rowed for Riverhead High School before being separated when Gould left for Cornell while O’Neill was still a high school senior. It wasn’t until last month that they were reunited at a training camp in Craftsbury Common, Vt. The value of the productive three weeks they spent at the Small Boat Training Center at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center became apparent at the national trials.

Rowers at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center aren’t allowed cell phones. It was only this year that Internet service was made available. The rural surroundings do not provide many distractions for rowers, who can focus on the task at hand.

“The situation at Craftsbury is as good as any training camp in America,” said the center’s director of competitive racing, Larry Gluckman, who saw six of the 10 rowers he brought to the trials win a place on the under-23 national team.

Gould and O’Neill said the Craftsbury experience benefitted them. Because they had sailed together in high school, O’Neill said the two had a “synergy” in the boat. They had originally trained to row a pair, which involves one oar per rower, before switching to the double, believing it offered them a better chance for success at the trials.

“They’re both analytical,” Gluckman said. “They think about their rowing a lot. They think about how to make the most of what they got. I think together, the sum is greater than the parts.”

Gould, who will enter his junior year at Cornell, and O’Neill, a sophomore, have also shown they have maturity. It was maturity that prevented them from going out too strong too early in the trials as their opponents might have done.

“I thought it was a very heady race,” Gluckman said. “They stayed calm. They knew they had 2,000 meters.”

Gould and O’Neill are in their sixth year of rowing, a sport that requires grueling training. The races are hardly a breeze, either. Rowers can be seen slumped over in their boats in total exhaustion after a race.

“At the end of a race, every muscle in your body is just surging with pain,” said Gould, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on July 12.

But winning a place on the under-23 national team — the biggest rowing achievement for both of them — eases the pain.

The two Riverheaders didn’t receive medals for their victory, but they were handed their national team uniforms.

“They look pretty sweet,” Gould said. “I’m not going to lie. I was pretty happy when I saw that red, white and blue with that USA emblem on there.”

Gould and O’Neill expected to train in Vermont for another 10 days or so before leaving July 15 for Amsterdam, where they will train before the world championships begin. With all they have accomplished, Gould and O’Neill know their work is not done.

“It’s great making the team and all, but it’s not the end,” O’Neill said. “It’s only the beginning. We have to go overseas and perform now.”

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