By AMARIS FORD
LATHAM — “The core of the team is enthusiastic and working hard,” said coach Burt Apfelbaum about the competitive rowing season. For over 40 years, he has been helping students thrive to reach their peak competitive goals.
Apfelbaum had coached the Shaker Crew for 10 years but has recently returned. “I was thinking about retiring, but I saw that Shaker was in desperate need of a coach a little more than a year ago and decided to help them out,” he said.
Shaker Crew is a club at Shaker Junior and Senior High School, composed only of students from the high school. The club is entirely self-funded by dues and fundraising.
“We have a core of varsity boys who have worked hard through the summer. They’ll be racing in various races through the fall,” said Apfelbaum. “The varsity girls, mostly freshman girls from last year, were competitive.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing my improvement since last year,” said rower Elizabeth Williamson about the new competitive season.
At the largest regattas and depending on the season, Shaker Crew may compete against 30 to 100 teams. “The fall races usually have bigger heats, so in the spring I’ll be racing against 10 other teams but in the fall maybe 30 at once,” said Williamson.
“I get a big adrenaline rush during them,” added Williamson. “It’s fun to hang out with my teammates and see the results at the end and see how well we did.”
Williamson, who has been a part of Shaker Crew for almost two years, had been looking to try a new sport in middle school. Now, for her, the Shaker Crew feels “like a second family.”
Connor Carey has been rowing since seventh grade and is in his fifth year with Shaker Crew. “I fell in love with it,” he said, “and that’s what kept me with it.”
“It’s very comfortable to be around my team now. We’re all really close,” Williamson said. She is attentive to maintaining team morale by doing her part. “I really help out at practice. I communicate with my teammates and help bring the boats up.”
“The entire team is one big family,” said Carey. “That’s the only way to put it. I’ve made some really good friends that I will hopefully keep for my life.”
“It teaches teamwork and leadership,” said Lisa Merolle, former treasurer of Shaker Crew and parent to a former rower. “There is a real camaraderie among the team members, where everyone encourages each other and cheers each other on.”
Once Apfelbaum arrived, Carey said that “he really picked up the competitive aspect of the team.”
Hometown pride was a motivating factor for Apfelbaum’s return to the Shaker Crew. “It’s my hometown. I want to help make it more competitive and give the kids a good experience.”
“I would really say that he knows what he’s doing, and he’s an amazing coach,” said Carey. “I can tell you from experience that he will definitely bring you far.”
Apfelbaum is experienced in coaching. “I’ve helped a lot of people somewhere along their path at the highest level of rowing,” he said. “I’ve helped two dozen athletes make the U.S. in the junior and senior national team.”
“He’s very motivating,” said Williamson. “If I’m not trying my hardest and he can tell, he pushes me to keep on going, and that’s great. I’ve built a really strong relationship with him since I met him. I think he’s a really good coach.”
Apfelbaum is a veteran of the collegiate rowing scene. “I rowed at Trinity College at the varsity level for two years, and I rowed four years at Trinity College in Hartford. It’s a good, solid Division III program.”
During his competitive rowing years, he won the championship single title at the Canadian Henley. “I rowed competitively until I was 34,” he added.
As his competitive rowing career came to a close, he launched into coaching. “I coached at Trinity College for a decade, and coached at Albany Rowing Center for a while.”
He has also coached gold medal crews in the U.S. Nationals, U.S. Junior Nationals, U.S. Club Nationals, the Dad Vail Regatta, and the New York State Scholastic Championship.
Just recently, Connor Carey got first place at state championships in the singles crew event and went on to Youth Nationals in Sarasota, Florida, where he placed tenth overall.
“If you listen to what he has to say and do what he tells you to do, he is going to bring you very far in the long run,” said Carey.
“The rowers have achieved much success during their high school careers, rowing in state and national championships, and many have gone on to row in college and become coaches themselves,” said Lisa Merolle. She recalls one rower recently participating in Olympic trials for Team USA.
“Many students don’t know that rowing is out there, and once they try it, they fall in love with it,” said Merolle.
“If you want to join, just go to the tryouts,” Carey encourages anyone interested in rowing. “Just go and try it and see if you like it.”