For him, size doesn’t matter

Rory Roberts’ heart is pumping, hands sweating and voice is hoarse. The marooned 125-pound junior screams for help in the face of eight blade-wielding men, each grimacing methodically and looking to end it. This seeming

Rory Roberts’ heart is pumping, hands sweating and voice is hoarse. The marooned 125-pound junior screams for help in the face of eight blade-wielding men, each grimacing methodically and looking
to end it.

This seeming nightmare is Roberts’ lived dream, one that he has woken up to for the last seven years of his life. At 5-foot-6-inches, Roberts stands – or sits – as the varsity coxswain of the men’s crew team and is vocal about it.

At the bow, Roberts steers the boat and mushes eight rowers – all hovering around 6-0 and between 170 and 200 pounds – in unison with chants of “Row!” and the occasional taunt. Coxswains are typically small in stature and must maintain a low body weight so as not to add extra burden to that boat.

Unlike some coxswains, Roberts does not have to worry about maintaining his weight. “I basically eat pretty badly, but I always stay the same,” said Roberts, a criminal justice major.

He does, however, have to be careful of bringing any extra weight into the boat during races. Roberts leaves any unnecessary belongings behind, including baggy clothing and even his shoes.

Practicing at 5:45 a.m., the crew team likely has seen more sunrises than some fledgling roosters. Riding his bike to practice every morning helps wake Roberts up, but he admits he’s not actually awake until after 6 a.m. And hitting the snooze button is out of the question. Having never missed a practice, Roberts stressed the importance of full attendance by saying, “It takes a lot to get a boat to blend well together and if one person is missing it throws everyone off.”

The team practices two to three times a day – mornings down on the Schuylkill River, afternoons on rowing machines and occasional evenings in the weight room. The coxswain is only required to attend morning practices since he strictly exercises his vocal cords during races.

Roberts, however,
chooses to always work out with the team.

“It’s not really fair that everyone else on the team is working hard and not me,” he said. Being together virtually everyday, Roberts has become good friends with all of his teammates. Varsity captain Chris Bushek compared the relationship among crew members with a sense of brotherhood.

“We all do everything together and we look out for one another,” said Bushek, a engineering major.

With Roberts at the helm of the boat and the intensity high during a race, discourse
between Roberts and his rowers can sometimes get heated and even a little vulgar.

“He’s said some things that have made me cringe,” Bushek said, “but it’s always something everyone else is thinking, but is afraid to say.”

To ensure his rowers hear him loud and clear, the boat is equipped with two speakers and a microphone for Roberts. He admits he may have crossed the line a few times with some of his comments, but Roberts said he tries not to be too critical of his rowers.

“Too much criticism can be negative and I don’t want anyone to lose confidence during a race,” Roberts said. Roles were reversed last year when Roberts had the chance to sit in the rower’s seat. When a fellow teammate got sick he was thrown into a novice race to row.

“It was quite an experience,” Roberts said. “I’d definitely do it again if I was given the opportunity.”

Working as a team is key to a successful row, according to Roberts. The team must learn to work as one instead of individual units.

“When you have 200-pound guys leaning
back and forth in the boat it makes the boat wobble and it slows you down,” Roberts said. Roberts first became involved in rowing his freshman year at Holy Spirit High in New Jersey, where he had his first experience as coxswain. Coming to Temple specifically for its crew program, Roberts feels that his added experience makes the team respect him more as a leader. Despite having one of the best crew teams in the state, Roberts feels there is always
room for improvement.

“All of our guys are fit enough; we just need to work on having a cleaner technique,” he said. Dedicating much of their waking hours – and even sleeping hours – to rowing, the team deserves every win they get, according to Roberts.

“Our team is really hard-working, and with all of the time we put into it, it feels really great to win.”

Rachel Madel can be reached at

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