Mark O’Toole Jr. is competitive and as a student at St. Mary’s he channeled that energy into ice hockey and lacrosse. When it came time to head off to the University of Massachusetts Lowell last fall, playing the sports he had grown up playing wasn’t an option. He was looking for something to fill the void and he found it as a member of the men’s rowing team.
O’Toole survived a tough round of tryouts (the initial field of about 70 was cut down to 20) and he got down to business. Although technically a club sport, the River Hawks men’s rowing team practices six days a week, sometimes twice day. In the fall and spring the workouts are on the water (the Merrimack River) and inside on the rowing machines. In the winter or during inclement weather, the team sometimes heads to the Brooks School in Lawrence to use the school’s still-water rowing tanks. There’s also a ton of running thrown into the mix.
“It’s sometimes called the ultimate team sport,” O’Toole said. “There’s nothing else like it. You need everyone working together. One person can’t do it all.”
As tough as the physical conditioning is, it’s only part of what makes a good rower.
“The No. 1 thing is mental toughness, then physical conditioning. In rowing sometimes the mind breaks down before the body does,” he said.
O’Toole, who played defense in both hockey and lacrosse, races in both a four-person boat and an eight-person boat. He rows starboard. Many of the rowers are new to the sport, but not to athletics. Rowers tend to be tall (over six feet for men) and the coxswain (the person who steers the boat and directs the rowers) tends to be smaller (120 pounds for men).
O’Toole said one of the best things about the sport is the friendships you develop. He said he’ll be sharing a suite with some of his teammates this year.
“I’ve met some of my best friends through rowing,” he said. “I can’t imagine not rowing in college.”
Although many rowers don’t take the sport up until they reach college, hard work can work wonders when it comes to catching up to those who start the sport young.
“If you’re willing to put the time in you can be just as good as someone who has been rowing for 10 years,” O’Toole said.
Workouts run year-round. During the summer the rowers have access to the boats and the rowing machines. They also do strength conditioning. Official workouts will begin in August. The team will compete in a variety of regattas including the Head of the Charles, the Textile River Regatta in Lowell in the Dad Vail Regatta in Philadelphia.
O’Toole said he sees rowing as something he can continue to do long after he graduates. He said when he and his teammates take out boats they see a lot of older guys who belong to the Merrimack River Rowing Association.
“The older guys still love it,” O’Toole said.
O’Toole , who is a marketing major in the Manning School of Business, made the Dean’s List last semester. He’s the son of Lynn Police Captain Mark O’Toole and Gina O’Toole. He grew up playing Lynn Youth Hockey, Pop Warner football, Lynn Youth Soccer and Wyoma Little League before turning his focus to hockey and lacrosse.