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McLean Crew Row, Row, Rows in the Rain

For eight hours on a cold, ray, rainy, and ultimately sleety Saturday, rowers for McLean High School’s crew sawed away on eight ergometers parked on the chilly sidewalk outside L.L. Bean at Tysons Corner.

Oddly, most wore shorts and t-shirts, their bare legs and arms exposed to the cold winter air.

“They start out in sweat pants and a sweat shirt,” said Owen Bubel, the vice president for operations.

“They row for about five minutes. Pretty soon, they are down to shorts and a t shirt. When they stop, they are sweating.”

To get ready for the spring rowing season, crew members prepare by spending hours on rowing machines, as ergometers are familiarly known.

And because crew is a “club” activity, not supported from school funds, the rowers’ parents get ready for the season by raising $100,000 to pay the expenses of the “ergs,” boats, trailer, truck, and transportation to regattas.

“We could spend more ‘off budget’ if we had it to spend,” Bubel said.

The McLean Citizens Foundation supports the rowing programs at both McLean and Langley High Schools; the MCF purchased a trailer for the two schools to share as they transport their expensive “shells” to regional rowing events at the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers and later in the spring, to the Stotesbury Cup competition outside Philadelphia.

As a fundraiser, the McLean students obtained sponsors who paid about $25 in return for a 10 kilometer exercise, measured by a device built into the ergometer.

Friends of the Potomac also participated, sharing with the McLean crew a percentage of sales generated at L.L. Bean that day. And they were brisk, as a winter sale coincided with a bone-chilling “weather event” outside.

But parents and students were cheerful, a boombox blaring music to keep their minds off the exertion. “With any luck, it is going to snow while you are doing this,” one parent said.

Sharon Ferguson, whose daughter Morgan graduated from McLean High and is now trying to start up a rowing club at James Madison University, cheerfully panhandled.

“Money for the crazy kids,” she said as she rattled a box labeled “Donations.”

“You’ve got to be crazy to be out here,” she said.

She should know; her “crazy” daughter wrote a charter for JMU’s first rowing club and it has been funded for $4,000 to buy a boat, Ferguson said.