Craig Hoffman, Executive Director of Conshohocken Rowing Center (CRC), is understandably proud of the 15,000-square-foot facility that is home to one of the nation’s top junior and under 23 sculling programs. A new, fully-funded, multiyear high performance under 23 team at the Conshohocken Rowing Center (CRC) has a goal of helping these athletes to Los Angeles and the 2028 Summer Olympics. “This is the American dream,” Hoffman stated.
Situated just 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Conshohocken, or “Conshy” as the locals sometimes call it, is a one-square-mile borough nestled along the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, PA.
Once a leader in Southern Pennsylvania’s industrial development, the Borough of Conshohocken is now a center bustling with trendy walking-distance shops and restaurants. It‘s a borough that prides itself in its opportunities to residents and businesses alike to engage with a community steeped in history, tradition, and forward-thinking leaders.
Nowhere is this commitment to the community more embodied than at the Conshohocken Rowing Center. This state-of-the-art rowing facility offers both kids and adults from across the region access not just to the river but to the world of a sport many mistakenly believe is closed to all but Ivy League elites.
The fruit of a partnership between two premier – and rival – rowing secondary schools, CRC houses both the Malvern Preparatory School, The Haverford School, and Conshohocken Rowing Center. But far from exclusionary, residents of the Borough are given significant discounts for memberships, training programs, and free camps.
Here, children and adults of all skill levels are encouraged to test the waters, hone their abilities, and challenge themselves against other scullers.
Regattas are raced and routinely won by CRC Junior and Under 23 teams. Recently the U23 men and women won trials held in Sarasota, FL, to garner the opportunity to represent the United States at the Under 23 World Rowing Championships in Varese, Italy, in the Lightweight Men and Women’s quad events. The Junior program, coached by Associate Director and Head Junior Coach Jon Stephanik, has over 100 athletes over the summer. The summer program wins local, regional, and national club championships annually. Coach Stephanik is also the Head Coach of The Haverford School Rowing Team.
The CRC invites college coaches from across the country to the facility to offer recruitment opportunities to prospective student college athletes.
“Passion” is a word you will often hear at the CRC.
For Hoffman, it is the fuel that drives a life worth living.
The husband of an artist, Stephanie Hoffman, Craig served as an assistant rowing coach at Haverford and as Head Rowing Coach at Malvern Preparatory School for 22 years during a career that has spanned over three decades. Considered one of America’s winningest high school sculling coaches, Hoffman’s crews have taken the top prize at dozens of National Championships. Craig Hoffman’s U23 coaching team consists of Lyons Bradley, James Konopka, Jackie Castorino and Aaron Preetam.
For his efforts, he has received such honors as the Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation from the United States Rowing Association. In 2004, he was named the United States Olympic Committee Development Coach of the year.
Currently, Hoffman sits on the boards of the Scholastic Rowing Association of America and the Philadelphia Gold Challenge Cup.
Joined by such stakeholders – fellow lifelong rowers and parents: Bill McNabb, Scot Fisher, William O’Neill, Ryan Coyne, and Sam Whitaker from such diverse fields as global investment banking, medicine, and digital publishing –the CRC in 2021 to give those college athletes with the skills, determination, and, above all else, the passion for the sport the opportunity to be the best they can be, regardless of their financial situations.
As one of the stakeholders, Coyne wants to pass the joy he experienced on the water to the next generation of collegiate rowers. Ryan Coyne won three consecutive Scholastic National Championships with Hoffman and went on to row at Cornell University. He now runs a large digital media and consumer brands company near Washington, D.C. “Rowing, specifically for Craig Hoffman, was a transformational experience for me that set my life on an extraordinary path,” Coyne said. “The Rowing Center is an incredible opportunity for young people to have that same experience.”
The CRC has announced a new multiyear, fully-funded program designed to keep under-23 collegiate-level scullers on par with the high-performing nations they will face on the international stage.
As with any competitive sport, competing in rowing at the national, world, and Olympic level is a long and expensive journey. Entrance fees, equipment, trainers, and travel expenses can easily cost a serious athlete thousands of dollars, inhibiting athletes from actualizing their potential.
By the time college-level athletes near graduation and the “real world,” explained Hoffman, many choose to leave the sport – and with it, their dreams – rather than seek the financial support of their parents or delay the career aspirations they decide to stop rowing.
Depending on the regatta schedule, selected college rowers will spend June through the middle of August training in Conshohocken and competing to qualify in such domestic (U.S. and Canadian) regattas as the Schuylkill Navy Regatta, the Independence Day Regatta, the U.S. Rowing Club National Championships, the U23 trials, and the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Although athletes will be responsible for their room, board, and transportation while in Philadelphia, they will enjoy the benefits of a full-time coaching staff; all their entry fees will be paid, CRC club program fees, as well as the considerable expenses incurred while representing the United States.
For Hoffman, mental health is a critical component of his CRC U23 vision. Working with the CRC U23 team is Lonnie Sarnell, Psy.D., CMPC, who has, since 2018, worked with the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team. Author of “Understanding Anxiety and Its Impact in Sports Contexts and Best Practices for the Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Sport Populations,” Sarnell has spent her career helping adolescents and adults navigate the pressures we all face growing up as well as those unique to peak-performance athletes.
“Mental preparation is key,” he said. “Athletes will carry the same problems they had as adolescents all the way to the Olympics if they don’t have the psychological support they need to overcome their issues early on and as problems arise.”
“It takes a lot of time and physical strength to do what they do,” he continued. “But it takes a lot of mental strength and focus, too, and a sense of well-being is every bit as important as physical strength to their success.”
And make no mistake, the rewards of balancing mental and physical strength and training can be significant.
Learning to balance the demanding rigors of their sport with the sometimes overwhelming pressures of everyday life, including how to work as a united team with people from other places and backgrounds, is a lesson Hoffman believes U23 CRC rowers will take back with them when they return to their colleges for the start of their fall terms.
“I think, when they leave Conshohocken after the summer, they go back and are able to contribute more to their college classes and rowing teams,” Hoffman said.
For those athletes who have reached collegiate-level competitive rowing, the CRC U23 program is a natural extension of the path they have chosen. With the impediment of finances removed, dedicated athletes, many of whom started rowing as young as 10 or 11 years old, are free to pursue their passion to its ultimate conclusion: proudly representing the United States on a world stage.
And lest you think that, in today’s divided political climate, representing America is no longer a goal young people deem worthy of pursuing, Hoffman dismisses the notion out of hand.
“Kids haven’t changed,” he said. “They still want to be the best they can be. They still want to put on that uniform and feel the pride of representing their nation.”
“The world has changed,” Hoffman said. “But kids have not.”
Editor’s Note/disclaimer: Ryan Coyne, CEO of Olympic Media and owner of BizPacReview, is a former collegiate rower and one of the generous founders supporting the Under 23 program.
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