By Jonathan Darling
NEW BEDFORD – With sweat pouring down his 16-year-old face and his legs and arms burning in pain, rower Andrew Pereira finished an indoor 2,000-meter race in a little over 6 1/2 minutes.
The significance? A 2k race is to rowing as the 40-yard dash is to football, and the New Bedford High student’s time just made him a hot prospect in regional rowing circles.
Interest came from Boston University, Northeastern University and Syracuse. He’s received emails from Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.
Not bad for a rower with less than a year of experience.
“He’s doing amazing,” said Carolyn McGonagle, Pereira’s coach and the director of the New Bedford Community Rowing program. “He started with a ‘learn to row’ program last summer. We put him in a boat, handed him an oar and said ‘pull that.’ And now, a year later, he’s getting interest from major colleges.”
Pereira got his first taste of crew last May when McGonagle ventured into New Bedford High School for an introductory demonstration about the sport. She brought a video and a couple of rowing machines in an attempt to spark interest among the school’s thousands of students.
“She showed us a video of kids rowing and they looked like they were having fun,” said Pereira, who was a basketball and baseball player at the time. “She said it would be a good way to stay in shape. I thought it would be something to do instead of going to the YMCA and lifting.”
Pereira was the only NBHS student to show up after school that day at a learn-to-row program. McGonagle didn’t put the newcomers in the water right away, but after doing some work on dry land, Pereira stepped into a boat for the first time.
“I basically fell in love with it,” he said. “It was so nice being outside on the water. Much better than being in a hot, smelly gym.”
Pereira spent last summer on the water and decided to give up basketball and baseball this year to focus on rowing. He started rowing competitively in September and has been turning heads ever since.
McGonagle started talking to college coaches on his behalf, coaches who said a time in the 6:40s would get him invitations to development camps along the East Coast.
So when Pereira put up a 6:35 in Boston against competition with years of experience, the interest started pouring in.
“I think three of four different schools will offer him a substantial financial aid package and several more will offer him official visits,” said McGonagle, who has coached rowing since 1998 in Georgia, California and Massachusetts.
A big plus for Pereira in the minds of college coaches is his frame Ñ the NBHS junior stands 6-foot-5, weighs 230 lbs. and understands that his lower body is just as big a factor in rowing as his upper body.
“Most people think it’s an upper-body sport,” McGonagle said.
“Just like in basketball when you jump or baseball when you’re at bat or pitching, your strength comes from your legs,” Pereira adds. “In rowing, you push off with your legs. It’s so important.”
The next phase of Pereira’s rowing journey is a tough one to take. While practicing to work on his technique, the teenager who made a name for himself by sprint-rowing more than a mile in 6 1/2 minutes now has some waiting to do.
He’s waiting to hear if he made the Junior National Team. If he does, and he should find out in the next few weeks, it’s off to Pittsburgh for training and competition. If he doesn’t, he has been guaranteed a scholarship to a developmental camp in Philadelphia this summer.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get him in front of as many college coaches as we can,” McGonagle said. “We’re going to put him where he needs to be to succeed.”
May 23, 2011 12:00 AM
By Jonathan Darling