A Team, A Crew: (left to right) Coach Jake Coert, Lauren Peters, Camden Coburn, Robbie Mills, Alex Dutka, and Danial Robbins after their finals race that ranked them nationally. Peters was ranked 22nd in the nation for single women’s and the men’s quad was ranked 23rd in the nation. This team was the youngest team at nationals this year.
Rowing ranks among the most grueling sports, testing the limits of an athlete’s grit, maximum physical output and mental strength. While many would shy away from such demands, something about it led local students Camden Coburn, 18, and Alex Dutka, 17, to forsake other athletic ventures to pursue the challenge.
“I got in the boat and just fell in love with the sport,” Coburn says, and the decision was made. He quit baseball and took up rowing, though his initial interest had been to stay in shape in baseball’s offseason between his freshman and sophomore years.
Coburn’s mother told Dutka’s mom about their new adventure.
“It was set in stone by God or something,” Dutka says of the moms’ conversation. “It came in at the perfect time, too. It was awesome.”
Dutka gave rowing a try and, like Coburn, has been with it ever since.
“It just kicked in immediately. I fell in love with it,” he remembers. “As soon as we were on the boat, and I got put in the boat by myself, I thought it was super cool.”
Both rowers love the sport because it sharpens them not only as individual athletes but as members of a team. Dutka sees quad rowing (four rowers in a boat) as four individual parts moving as one.
“A four-person boat — it seems like more of a team sport,” the incoming senior says, “but what our coach and what we try to do and think about is just keep[ing] ourselves accountable, and as long as we do that, everyone else will be doing the same. So, as long as I’m pushing my hardest, then Camden, Daniel and Robbie will. As long as Robbie’s pushing his hardest, we will. It’s an independent kind of team exercise.”
Coburn enjoys rowing because it requires skills from various sports he’s played: the mental toughness of golf and the physical fitness of baseball, track and cross-country.
“I’ve done a lot of different sports — any you can think of, I’ve done it — and rowing is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done because it incorporates so much from different sports,” Coburn says. “You need the strength to balance the boat, to keep the boat going for 2000 meters, which is over a mile, and have the mentality of being able to keep up with the pain of pushing through it so you can do well in the race and pass other people. … It’s a very well-rounded sport.”
The two athletes compete for the Channel Islands (CI) Rowing Club, training five days a week and racing in a quad with two other teammates. CI Rowing Club provides training for young competitors and adults looking for some fun.
Coburn, who recently graduated from Oaks Christian School and will join the UC San Diego rowing team next fall, founded a rowing club at Oaks Christian where students compete in a scholastic division. The group started with around seven members and has roughly doubled in its few years of existence.
“It was super exciting to start the club because I knew the potential that Oaks had to create a pretty strong and fast team,” Coburn says.
In the club’s first year, athletes placed second in doubles (a two-person boat) at a regional championship.
On June 8, Coburn, Dutka and the rest of the quad set off for Florida to compete at a national event where the quad placed fourth in their heat and now ranks twenty-third in the nation. Being the newest club to the competition, the group was excited to bring home such accomplishments.
As with any sport, there are days the athletes just don’t want to be there — but they keep coming back.
“Some days, you really just want to get out of the boat and drive away,” Coburn says. “You stay with it because you know how much you do love it. … You stay because you know when you put in this much effort, it will pay off in the end.”
“[With] the sacrifices we’ve made,” Dutka adds, “We would be remiss not to work our butts off.”