There has never been a rowing team or rowing club at Seaholm, but that hasn’t stopped Nick Willson from becoming one of the nation’s top rowers.
Over the last couple of years, the senior has quietly become an elite rower and even came in twelfth place at last year’s nationals.His event is the men’s singles sculling, which means he rides solo.
Willson began rowing just three years ago at the University of Michigan Summer Rowing Camp. After an initial bad experience, he quickly became hooked and realized his potential for the sport. When he came home he joined the Detroit Boat Club.
“I kind of hated it when I went to the camp at U of M,” Willson said. “But on a good team, or a better team like Detroit was then I actually liked being there.”
Willson began his high school career in Canada, but moved to Berkley soon after that and attended Brother Rice until his sophomore year. He transferred to Seaholm for his junior year, but then took a year off to concentrate on rowing.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t busy. During this time, he rowed all across the country, competing in New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, Massachusetts, and frequenting races in Philadelphia.
His decision to row for the year was fully supported by his family.
“I was one hundred percent in support of it, he had already proven himself to us by going to 5 am practices every day and afternoon practices every day,” Nick’s mother Laura Davidson said. “We knew that he was serious, so we let him do it.”
He rowed in the largest two-day Crew event in the world, The Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, where he and his partner from the Detroit Boat Club placed twelfth out of 62 in the Men’s Junior Doubles event. The pair went on to finish eighteenth together in the same event at nationals.
“Hopefully, I can do better than twelfth,” Willson said about this year’s national competition.
He also went to the Junior Worlds Sculling Camp in California that same year.
“It’s when I did most of my training,” Willson said looking back on the year.
That training involves, cold, early mornings. Grueling practices become a regular occurrence. Managing training and school work can be a lot to handle.
“For me it isn’t as hard core as most rowers,” Willson said. “But when I rowed for Detroit, I’d wake up at 4 am, drive down to the Boat Club, have an hour-and-a-half or two hour practice on the water and it’d be freezing cold. Then I’d come to school, go back to practice afterschool and do the same thing and finish up around 7:30 pm.”
Senior Lexie Hamilton can relate to his difficult schedule. She currently rows for the Detroit Boat Club and formerly rowed with Willson.
“He’s just really dedicated,” Hamilton said.“He gets the training, he sculled at the Philadelphia Sculling Club over the summer, and he had a pretty good experience with his coach there. He just stepped it up to the next level with the extra training he got over the summer.”
The 6’1” 160 pound native Canadian spends his time rowing on Orchard Lake with his coach Chris Czarnecki. Czarnecki is the St. Mary’s coach and has led them to state, regional, and national championships.
Despite his physical training, Willson’s greatest asset is his mental toughness.
“I don’t think you can get the results that Nick has gotten without being really tough between the ears,” Czarnecki said.
Willson mostly competes in 2,000 meter races, which last around seven or eight minutes long. During the races, the rowers have to overcome the pain to focus.
“When you’re doing well in a race and you’re really focused, eventually you can just not think about it and kind of keep going,” Willson said. “But at some point when you’re going all out you just can’t pull the strength together. You know when you get really lazy and you get up and you’re like, crap I can’t really stand up? It kind of feels like that except that you are trying really hard but you just can’t.”
“It’s a real sort of chicken match, who is going to break first; who is going to say ouch, this hurts too much and this is too painful; I’m going to back away and let someone else take this victory,” Czarnecki said.
With all of the early mornings and painful hours, it leaves the question: why rowing?
“I played hockey for most of my life, then I was a gymnast, and I rode horses. I played baseball, I played lacrosse, and I played roller hockey. I played soccer and I played every other sport, but I always wanted to change something,” Willson said. “And then with rowing I just never stopped.”
Nick is hoping that all of his hard work will pay off. He hopes to continue his rowing career at Grand Valley State University and he also aspires to join a world’s team and maybe even an Olympic team one day.
“Depending on how well things are going there (Grand Valley State), I’ll see if I want to do a lot more work with school and go straight to a better education or spend a lot of time trying to make a world team or an Olympic team,” Willson said.