Athlete of the Issue: John Cecil

John Cecil is seven feet tall, co-captain of the Boys Varsity Crew Team, and committed to row at the University of California, Berkeley. Yet when he first came to Groton, crew was nowhere in his mind. “My older brothers encouraged me to try it out,” said John. “I was actually planning on playing tennis!”

And thus did Groton’s crew program avoid a potentially devastating loss. After all, John holds the School’s record for best erg score, rowing two thousand meters in six minutes and sixty milliseconds. “It’s hard to imagine,” says his current coach Andy Anderson, “that it will ever be bettered.” John’s score is even faster than those of the five Grotonians who have gone on to row on the United States Olympic team since Mr. Anderson’s arrival on campus in 1980.

        In his first year on campus, John joined both the varsity basketball and varsity crew teams – a feat practically unheard of for a second former. He is currently co-captain in both sports. On crew, he spent his first year on the third boat and his remaining four on the first, which Mr. Anderson said is “extremely rare.”

In addition to his skill, John brings an infectious, fun-loving attitude, inspiring teammates to work harder with his pure love for the sport. Mr. Anderson calls him “a kid who makes it obvious how much he enjoys what he is doing,” continuing that “he’s very hard working, a great team member, [and] cares about other kids on the team.” Teammate Tom Steere ’18 calls John “very supportive,” saying that he “respects everyone on the team equally. Coming in new this year, I was very worried about being part of the team. But he showed that it doesn’t matter who you are– you can be good at rowing as long as you try.”

        This year, John is a captain of the team along with Piper Higgins ’17 and Will Norton ’17. Mr. Anderson notes their contrasting personalities, saying that John unites the other two in his leadership style: “John is the guy who physically can do and doesn’t mind talking and encouraging people to do it.” Mr. Anderson notes that John’s leadership style perfectly complements that of Will, which he describes as more verbal, and that of Piper, which he thinks more quiet and intense. Piper said, “John is a really great guy to have on the team, especially as a fellow captain . . . Both of us were on first boat as freshmen, so it was weird at first to feel like leaders on the team being so young. But now, I see the younger guys looking up to him both as an athlete and as a friend—it is just awesome.”

The 2014-15 season stands out most prominently in John’s mind. That year – his fourth form year – he enjoyed rowing on the same boat as his brother Hugh: “It was awesome. We get on well, and rowers have to be really synchronized,” said John. His favorite memory is of the Cooke Cup in 2015, when all four boats beat Nobles. It was Hugh’s last race. “The whole thing was very emotional . . . I didn’t realize then it would be my last race ever with Hugh,” said John, remembering how the rest of the first boat was broken up shortly after.

Another highlight of John’s time rowing at Groton was attending Henley last summer for three weeks. In the first weekend alone, the team raced seven times in two days. And, despite their jet lag and underdog status, they won gold at the regatta. They would go on to win eleven out of the thirteen different races they participated in before returning to the States.

Outside of Groton, John had the privilege of trying out for the US National Team the summer after Fourth Form. In the last round of selection, he was among thirty prospective rowers left standing. And although he was the fastest on the erg by seven seconds, veteran campers took the spots John had hoped for. Although he was disappointed not to have been chosen, John still remembers the experience fondly.

        As he moves beyond the Circle, John will continue on to Berkeley, California with oar in hand. This summer, he will be rowing with a club team run by the UC Berkeley coaches, and will have a chance to acclimate to rowing at the collegiate level while also meeting his new teammates.

But for all his love of teammates, it is his coaches – Steve Timpany, Charlie Hamlin, and Mr. Anderson – whom John credits with fostering his love of the sport. “It’s a beautiful sport,” he said. “There’s such balance, and you have to have precision in timing the catch. It’s so simple, yet perfect.”