The tradition of betting shirts is common in rowing.
Members of the losing crews give their racing shirts to the winning boat.
The typical exchange, however, was a bit awkward for Austin Dunn last spring at the Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta. After Temple finished second behind the Florida Institute of Technology, Dunn had to give his jersey to his former teammates.
Dunn, now a junior, rowed in the Varsity 8 boat for Florida Tech in Fall 2014. He transferred to Temple in Spring 2015 in order to get closer to his home in Long Island, New York.
While Dunn arrived at Temple in January 2015, he didn’t compete until Spring 2016. Florida Tech denied his one-time transfer request, so Dunn could go to Temple, but he couldn’t compete for one year.
“They basically didn’t want to train someone to have that same person come race against them,” Dunn said.
It didn’t matter much because Dunn physically couldn’t compete. Before he left Florida Tech, Dunn suffered a compound fracture in his fibula and tibia during a pickup basketball game. He had surgery in November 2014 and continued physical therapy when he got to Temple in January 2015.
As he rehabbed his leg in Spring 2015, Dunn went to practice once a week and showed up at regattas, but he found that he had a lot more time on his hands without rowing.
Dunn started rowing in ninth grade, and welcomed the break from the sport. He got to do things he previously couldn’t, like sit down and read the entire New York Times on Sundays.
“I started reading more, liking school more,” Dunn said. “Because when your priorities have to change because of something you can’t control, you kind of have time to realize that you like to do other things too.”
While coaching at a rowing club in New York after the season, Dunn felt “left out” as he watched kids rowing. Dunn began to return to full health in early August 2015. He was running and biking about three hours per day to get back into shape.
When the team started practice later that month, Dunn was ready to go. Two weeks into the season, he was injured again. This time, Dunn had four umbilical hernias. He had another surgery in October 2015, less than a year after he had surgery on his leg.
“Imagine not being able to laugh or cough or sneeze,” Dunn said.
Though he only saw Dunn for a short period of time, coach Brian Perkins was impressed with Dunn’s work ethic.
“The fact that he hurt himself pulling so hard tells you that he’s the kind of kid that you have to calm down and not necessarily go after him,” Perkins said. “He’s a really fun person to work with as a coach. If there’s guys you have to motivate every single day, that’s not that fun. If there’s a guy you have to tell to turn it down a little bit … that’s exciting.”
It took about two months for Dunn to return to full strength again. His first time back in the boat was during the team’s spring break trip to Florida.
“I just got thrown right back in the mix and it felt good,” Dunn said. “I was really enjoying it, and I really loved it. I remembered how much I liked it. It was nice to be back because I took a lot of time off rowing.”
The wait paid off for Dunn. He earned a spot in the Varsity 8 boat during the Owls’ historic 2016 season.
Temple won the San Diego Crew Classic in San Diego, California, medaled at the Dad Vail Regatta for the first time since 2008 and received an invitation to the International Rowing Association National Championships for the first time since 2003.
“I have a lot of memories in rowing,” Dunn said. “I’ve been rowing for a while. And that boat last year was really fun. It was just like every single day you wanted to show up to practice.”
This season, the Owls are trying to replace five members from last year’s Varsity 8 boat, and Dunn will be one of the athletes Perkins looks to for leadership.
“We have guys that are Dad Vail medalists now that need to mentor and bring the other guys along,” Perkins said. “They know what it takes to get through a heat to get to the finals. They know what it takes to get down the course and medal in that event. They need to show these young guys what has to be done.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.