There are mornings when Gavin White struggles to get out of bed.
On other mornings, however, the longtime coach springs out of bed with a renewed sense of energy before conducting his 6 a.m. crew practice on the Schuylkill.
“It’s really hard for me to predict how I am going to feel from one day to the next,” White said.
Now, White is contemplating retirement after a season that has been one of the most tumultuous during his more than three decades running the program. White said he will announce his decision on May 12, during a banquet for his student-athletes.
The crew and rowing teams, along with five other sports, were eliminated last December as the university cited facilities issues as a conflict to the well-being of student-athletes. After months of fighting back against the cuts, the crew and rowing teams were reinstated after a donation from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest and funding from the city resulted in a new plan for the renovation of the East Park Canoe House.
White said after the reinstatement that he was considering stepping down to an advisory role, but that the reversal of the cuts might give him “new energy.”
When the athletic cuts were announced in December, however, White said it could not have happened at a worse time in his life. Now in his ‘60s, he has battled Parkinson’s for more than a decade – a disease that has slowly limited White’s ability to walk.
With the program on the chopping block for two months, White said it was a big distraction to him and for the program. He was away from the team for about a month earlier this year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair two meniscus tears.
While White occasionally feels pain when he turns his knee, he now describes it as “tolerable.” After visiting the doctor on a weekly basis, White is now scheduled for an appointment once every two months.
“It feels better than it was,” White said. “It feels better weekly. In a couple of months [the pain] will go away.”
With only two members of the team graduating, White said he would like to see what the young team will be like as seniors. After the cuts were announced, White emphasized the strong group of underclassmen as one of the most painful aspects of the timing of the announcement.
“That broke my heart,” White said.
Throughout his four years in the crew program, co-captain Fergal Barry – one of the seniors departing – said White’s strongest point was improving the team’s physical fitness.
“His fitness plan is brilliant,” Barry said. “When it comes to regattas, he made sure physically we were all at the top of our game.”
Barry said White’s fitness plan is called the “Tax Man,” where the team has to do three 20-minute races whether on the ergometer, an indoor rowing machine, or on the water. The fitness plan is preformed every other day.
While some of the novices have yet to work with White during the spring season, freshman Robert Byrne said if White decides to retire, it would be disappointing.
While crew members say they believe White will be returning to Temple in the fall, White has slowly handed some of his coaching responsibility to assistant coach Brian Perkins.
Perkins oversees the recruiting circuit, fills out some paperwork and at times talks to the team through the speakers when rowing along with White.
Ultimately, if White retires, the university would choose who would lead the next chapter of the men’s crew program – although Perkins would be a leading candidate.
The crew team will race in the Dad Vail Regatta May 9-10 – just a few days before he says he will announce his future plans.
“It’s been a very rewarding 35 years,” White said.
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.