BY LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTOS BY LISA WORTHY and PROVIDED BY USROWING
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Bennett Rossell is a sophomore coxswain at Stetson University and spent the summer battling waves and sprinting across sandy beaches while racing with the United States’ first-ever beach sprint delegation. Rossell also competed in the 2021 World Rowing Coastal Championships following beach sprints.
The mixed quad, coxed by Rossell, would end up finishing third in the event.
Rowing News caught up with Rossell to ask him about his experience, the future of coastal, and what it’s like to be a coxswain-of-all-trades.
Q: Can you talk a bit about your experience with coastal.
Rossell: In high school, and still in college at Stetson Universty, I’m a coxswain. But, in high school, my junior year, me and a couple of my teammates were involved in the first-ever junior coastal rowing regatta in the United States at Lido Key, Fl. So that was my first dive into the coastal rowing world.
Leading up to going to (coastal) trials, my high school coach knew somebody that was in the mixed quad and they needed a coxswain and we both just happened to be at Nathan Benderson Park and he called me over and said ‘hey do you want to do this?’ and I said ‘sure!’ So I met my crew the day before trials and just got a feel for the boat and went out there and ended up winning trials. So that was fun.
Then we did a training trip in Rhode Island at the beginning of August and we trained up there for a few days and then went out to the world championships. We actually hadn’t rowed as a boat—the full lineup—since trials so we just did what we could with what we had and ended up making it work.
Q: So you’re no stranger to history, then, having participated in the first coastal junior event, and then you were named to the first-ever USRowing beach sprint team. What did it feel like to be a part of these historical events.
Rossell: Honestly, it’s a great feeling. Going out there knowing that you are setting the bar, setting the standard for years to come. Being a part of that, being a part of the learning experience for everybody, and just learning what it’s about and how things go, it was just a great experience overall. I would definitely do it all over again if I could.
You definitely have all eyes on you when you’re out there and you’re the first team and I think that’s something really special. I think coastal rowing has a growth mentality in the United States and I think it’s going to be something to remember.
Q: How was the camaraderie in your boat.
Rossell: We all had a lot of respect for each other. I think we all knew what we were doing and how to get there and how to get it done. We worked around the obstacles we had and for myself, I was busy this summer with work, Christine was going to school over in England, and the Huppi’s, John works at Tulane as a professor, and Hannah also is involved with the rowing team over there. There was just a lot of respect for each other and when we were together we were all focused and attentive to what had to be done.
We all had a lot of respect for each other. I think we all knew what we were doing and how to get there and how to get it done.
Q: Did the bond increase as you were traveling to Portugal?
Rossell: I think we all were aware that this was the first time the United States has sent a crew over there and we all just wanted to turn some heads. We gave it all and we gave it what it took. Everyone that was there—I don’t really know how to describe it—if you weren’t at the course you were watching races on your laptop and everyone would just go around and say “congratulations!” I think the whole camaraderie between the whole team, Team USA, was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It really did feel like a team.
Q: You coxed a lot of boats between beach sprints and coastal champs and the format alone lends itself to a lot of racing. How did you manage to keep the crews energized?
Rossell: One of the biggest things was going into that, we really had no idea what to expect. From my end and most of the people in my boat like no one had ever been there from the United States. We didn’t know how fast other crews were, who the other countries had sent and we just came prepared to just give it our all.
When we got second in the time trial it was like “wow, okay.’ We didn’t have our best race and we still got second let’s just keep improving from here. Every race from here on out needs to be better than the last.” I think holding ourselves accountable to that and understanding that we’re here and we’ve already set the standard, let’s keep going. Why not push it further?
Q: Looking at the photo Lisa Worthy took of you racing, can you say what was going through your head at that moment. What were you feeling?
Rossell: I believe that photo was taken at the finish of our trials race. I wasn’t really thinking when I got to the regatta “okay, I could go to Portugal right now.” It was more “I’m here. I have been told what I gotta do, and what we want to do, and let’s do it.” So there at the finish, I was yelling at John Huppi my bow-man to get ready to get out. We were ahead of the other boat, we had the edge, we caught a wave, and emotions just really started to run high and we were just like “alright. This is it. If we do this right we’re going to Portugal.”
At the moment I wasn’t thinking “this is it” it was just “let’s get the job done.”
Q: What does the future hold for Bennett? More coastal?
Rossell: Right now, in this moment, I’m training flat water. That will be through the end of the year. I was elected team captain while I was in Portugal so I’ll be kind of organizing the team and staying focused on flat water for now for the short-term future but once summer comes around I’m definitely going to get back into coastal. I want to stick with coastal all the way. I do thoroughly enjoy flat water but coastal is just a totally different experience. I find a lot of enjoyment in it. It’s really exhilarating because you never really know what’s going to happen next.