Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

October 23, 2002:

Jock talk
John Ference '04 muses on crew

By Nate Sellyn

Hey hey sportsfans,

First things first, e-mail me. If you want to talk Princeton sports, e-mail me. If your daughter fences and you think I should cover her, e-mail me. If there's a Princeton sports scandal brewing and only you know about it, e-mail me. If you want to talk fantasy basketball, please, e-mail me. If you just saw Four Feathers and weren't that impressed, e-mail me— although I thought it was pretty good, and I certainly had low expectations going in. My point is, unless you e-mail me, I won't know if I'm doing a good job, and — more important — I won't ever be able to put together a mailbag column. So — e-mail me..

Anyway, for the next little while, I'm going to interview Princeton athletes who might not otherwise fall under the spotlight. People who make a big sacrifice for their team or have an exceptional story, but aren't ever going to appear as the Princetonian ëAthlete of the Week.'

First up is John Ference '04, an ORFE major from Johnstown, Pa.. Ference joined the men's freshman lightweight crew team as a novice in 2000, and made the first freshman boat. His boat went undefeated for the entire year, and then won Eastern Sprints — the major rowing championship for East Coast colleges. For his sophomore year, Ference began in the junior varsity boat, but after a few races moved up to varsity. The boat would again do very well, placing second to Yale in the Sprints final. So what kind of rowing pedigree does Ference have to explain all this success? None — he never touched a boat before coming to Princeton.

NS: So you had never rowed at all before coming to Princeton?
JF: No. I had seen races a few times before, which is how I became interested in the sport.

NS: Just watching rowing was enough to make you want to try? It doesn't really seem to be a glamour sport — I mean, the rowers aren't getting out of the boat and being mauled by girls or anything.
JF: I really enjoy being outdoors, and I spent a lot of time around a lake near my home when I was younger. Rowing looked like a chance to try something new combined with things that I enjoyed. It also had a mysterious allure to it because I didn't really know anything about crew when I began.

NS: Is it uncommon for people who just begin rowing to suddenly become so good? Is your success out of the ordinary?
JF: With the coaching expertise and the facilities here at school, it is very possible to quickly learn a lot about rowing, so my success is maybe only a bit above average. I have heard a few stories of novices going on to success on the national team after rowing here.

NS: Do you have any aspirations to continue to that level?
JF: That would be a tremendous jump from the level I am at right now, and it currently appears far beyond my potential. But if it looks like something I could achieve in the future, I would gladly pursue it.

NS: Do you have any rowing rituals? Like, an egg in your spandex a la Cool Runnings?
JF: Some guys think it's about the socks, wearing the same socks for every race or not washing them. Or the racing shirt. You don't wash your racing shirt.

NS: But you?
JF: There's really not much gear in crew, so just I prefer a brand new pair of socks for racing. You practice and toil in the same-old same-old, but you've gotta do something nice for the big occasions.

NS: I hear ya. When you're taking out your prettiest sister, may as well have on new underwear.
JF: I don't love my sister that much.

NS: Not many of us do. On to more important questions now. Whenever you guys win, you literally take the T-shirts from all your opponents, right?
JF: Yes, when you race, you race for the honor of taking home your own shirt...and everyone else's.

NS: So how many shirts have you picked up in two years of rowing?
JF: I think I have a little more than 20 shirts from the different crews we have raced.

NS: Which one's the best?
JF: For a number of years in lightweight rowing, Yale has had very fast boats, so I would have to say that the Yale shirts from freshman year are the best.

NS: Ok, they mean the most. Which ones look the coolest, though?
JF: By far, the Princeton shirts look the best. They are sort of eccentrically designed with heavy cotton orange and black bands on the sleeves and a giant "P" on the back.

NS: #1 at everything. Do the women trade shirts too?
JF: No, men's crew is the only sport in which they bet shirts in the races.

NS: My luck. Have you seen The Skulls? (Second-rate film starring Joshua Jackson as a Yalie rower who gets recruited into just about the coolest secret society ever, except they're the bad guys. If something like this exists at Princeton, e-mail me. I don't care who I have to murder to get in.)
JF: Yes, I saw it my freshman year after doing some racing. Totally unrealistic. I mean, the guy is talking while he is rowing. I think I'd pass out if I tried that during a race.

NS: So that's not the pump-up movie for rowing? I mean, in high school, we used to watch Come Fly With Me (Michael Jordan's first home video, showcases Mike performing a variety of inspiring acts) before we played basketball. Watching The Skulls doesn't get you aching to be like Joshua Jackson?
JF: No, The Skulls doesn't do it. I think the best movie I've seen so far before a race had to be Tombstone, which we watched before a race at Cornell. When the heroes come into town and the bad guys don't have a chance. It's all about riding into town and cleaning up the competition.

NS: Tombstone is a good movie. Kurt Russell is a much better Wyatt Earp than Kevin Costner. Plus, Val Kilmer is really good at not being Batman.
JF: Agreed.

NS: Is it true that if you break an oar or a leg or something that renders you incapable of rowing, you're supposed to jump out of the boat to lighten the load?
JF: I hope I never find out for real, but I think I'd go for it.

NS: So that's really what you're meant to do?
JF: You might want to check with some authorities on that one before you try it. I think you might get hit by a bunch of oars.

NS: That's what I was thinking. I mean, somebody bailing out in the middle of a race is bound to be a little more off-putting than an extra 150 pounds. Unless, of course, he could go attack other boats. That'd make for a great sport.
JF: That's would add a whole new dimension. I bet we'd get bigger crowds.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU