Struggles to success: from average athlete to national rower


Courtesy of Scott Smyth

From left to right: Grant Dutro, ‘21, SENIOR Joe Adler, Carter Jacobs, ‘21 and SENIOR Nick Smyth rowed together in the varsity four. In the 2020-21 season, Smyth along with the other three rowers were considered the top rowers out of the guys varsity.

Imagine waking up at six in the morning, going to school for seven hours, heading straight to rowing practice for another two then coming home to start on the WHHS workload, just to do it all over again the next day.

Now imagine that this has been your life for five years and finally, after hundreds of hours of dedication, all your hard work pays off. For SENIOR Nick Smyth, this is exactly what happened.

Smyth has been rowing for five years now and in the summer of ’21, his life changed. After being selected to try out for the US National Rowing team, Smyth and almost 70 other teens his age were invited to the Chula Vista Elite Athletic Training Center in San Diego for a chance to make either the national or world teams for the country. 

After weeks of hard work, Smyth was able to make the National boat, along with only seven other rowers in the country. 

On this boat, Smyth was supposed to race against teams from Mexico and Canada but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans changed and they raced instead in the US rowing summer nationals. 

Within 30 minutes, Smyth raced in two different boats, placing 4th and 2nd overall. 

This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most was just another goal for Smyth to accomplish. Rowing for the Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club (CJRC) Smyth often looks back to what those at the club have done before him as motivation. “I just think about the reputation that CJRC has and the legacy that we should uphold,” Smyth said.

As a club, CJRC holds one of the highest numbers of medals won at the youth national level and for its rowers, winning is just an expectation that comes with being on the team.

Hanging in the boathouse of CJRC is a wall of plaques that include the names of past club rowers who have gone on to race at not only the national level but also worldwide. Smyth looks to this wall often and aspires not just to be on it, but to embody the type of person that gets on the wall.

Even after making the National team, Smyth is working harder than ever to get better.

With rowing as Smyth’s top priority, he spends 2-3 hours, six days a week, at practice, giving it his all, on and off the water. After tackling the national team, Smyth hopes to come back better and stronger next year to make the US rowing worlds team, virtually the highest team a US rower could make. 

SENIOR Nick Smyth goes to practice six days a week for two to three hours each day. While on the water, winning is virtually the only thing on Smyth’s mind and victory is what pushes him to success. (Kaylee Robbins)

Smyth never expected to come this far in his rowing career. Being 6’7 definitely helps Smyth on the water but without determination and motivation, Smyth may have not even still been on the water. 

You would think that for someone who has come so far in a sport or part of life, quitting would be out of the cards but as a sophomore that was all Smyth could think about. 

“I was surrounded by bad influences which caused me to have clouded judgment and not work hard in the sport I love,” Smyth said.

But soon, Smyth realized that he had too much potential to waste by not being on the water. By sticking with the sport, he got a chance to see just how far he could go.

Even when he may have doubted himself, assistant coach Ethan Revis always knew the potential that could be found in Smyth. Revis was one of the first coaches to work with him and even in the beginning, Revis saw something in Smyth that one doesn’t come across often. 

Over the years, Revis has seen firsthand Smyth go from a scrawny eighth-grade boy to one of the top athletes in the country. “Nick is really a testament of what can happen with a kid when they really dedicate and grind out something that they’re passionate about.”

Smyth was not always the strongest or biggest guy on the water but that never stopped him from rising above any mental or physical challenges he may have faced. 

Though not all of his teammates have made it as far as him, Smyth knows that without the people around him, he may not be as successful as he is.

“My favorite part is after the race. When everyone says good race… I know other sports do that but for me, when rowers say it, it feels more genuine because you know they are trying to the best of their abilities, just like you are,” Smyth said.

Everyone has one passion that they absolutely love and for Smyth, rowing is that thing. Smyth works hard not only to prove to himself that he can work hard, but also works hard for his teammates around him. 

Though it’s not always clear to Smyth that he belongs on the water, for coaches like Revis, it has never been a question. “It’s very clear how much he loves the sport and I think that that’s something that you can’t replace,” Revis said.

Smyth doesn’t know yet exactly where the sport will take him but for now, he plans to keep working hard and proving just how far he can go to those around him.