Oct. 21, 2010
SEATTLE - Quietly, Robert Munn has put together an impressive two-year rowing career at Washington.
During his first season on Montlake, Munn competed on the historic freshmen 8+ that went undefeated and beat each of their opponents by open water. Last year, Munn was an engine-room component on the 2V8 boat that captured a National Championship with a come-from-behind victory over Brown in the IRA Grand Finals. And this past summer, Munn received some valuable international seasoning as part of the USRowing delegation that won a Silver Medal in Belarus at the U-23 World Championships.
Even with the sterling resume, Munn is just now beginning to find himself within the Husky program. But that's just life at Conibear Shellhouse. Talent and pre-collegiate accolades are little currency in comparison to hard work. Munn is one of the rare rowers who encompass all three attributes.
Yet the fact that Munn is just now rowing in his first varsity race showcases the commitment it takes to succeed at Washington.
On Sunday, Munn will be part of the nine-person Washington delegation that will compete at the 46th annual Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston on Oct. 24. For Husky rowers, there is no fall honor more rewarding than the selection for this race, one of the most iconic events the sport has to offer.
Selection for the HOCR is a brutal and physically taxing trial. Men's coach Michael Callahan continued the Washington tradition of racing rowers in pair boats - along with other factors - to determine those who go to Boston, a ruthlessly fair means of putting together the top eight oarsmen and the coxswain. Munn will row bow seat for the Huskies out East, his first with the team but his third overall (Munn competed at the HOCR twice as an oarsman for the Sammamish Rowing Association).
For Munn, experiencing top events like these was the reason he committed to Washington.
A native of Redmond, Wash., he made the decision to stay home because of the camaraderie he felt with his teammates. Yes, the competition for seats at Washington is fierce. But Munn loved how everyone in the Shellhouse held each other accountable. Upperclassmen shepherd the Grunties (UW freshmen rowers), indoctrinating them into the culture of the Husky program.
For Munn, it was the relationship he initially developed with Rob Gibson (who now rows for Canada) that secured his vote for UW. During Munn's freshman season, it was Gibson who was the friendly voice after a tough class or practice.
"Competition brings the whole team together here," Munn said. "But at the same time, you have so many friends afterwards. You're forming a bond with your teammates by the way we do things here."
According to the coaching staff, Munn thrives in the Washington program because of three reasons: he's coachable, he works extremely hard and he understands the big picture in the sport. Callahan praises his strength on the oar, but what impressed him the most was how Munn is patient enough to work with the coaching staff to correct his technique. In the sport of rowing, it's easy to stick with what works now over what is technically correct.
As Callahan pointed out this week, Munn has been diligent about improving his flexibility, giving him more length and tilt on the rowing stroke.
Munn's summer training with USRowing gave him the unique experience of competing at the U-23 World Championships in Brest, Belarus, where the USA team picked up a Silver Medal. Joining Munn in Europe were Ty Otto (who is also head to Boston) and the now-graduated Blaise Didier. The Husky coaches continually applaud the work USRowing does to prepare its rowers for summer competition, and also recognize how physically prepared the rowers are when they return to campus.
Munn had earmarked this opportunity as a season-long goal. While in high school, Munn made the US Junior boat that was going to compete in Linz, Austria. But then a week before the delegation was to depart, Munn fractured his foot stepping off a curb in Princeton. When Munn returned to selection camp last summer, he originally felt at a disadvantage because he had yet to row in the Huskies varsity. JV guys, Munn said, have to prove themselves even more to USRowing. But Munn was hardened by the daily practices on the Montlake Cut, where the talent level on the Husky JV is essentially at the same level as the team's flagship boat.
Once he made the boat, there was nothing that could replace the experience of rowing on foreign waters, looking over and seeing the best from countries like Australia and Germany.
"When you here the United States of America called at the starting line and knowing that you are representing them, that's cool," Munn said. "There are a few feelings I've felt since I've been on this Earth, and that's up there."
Callahan also respects how Munn, still only a junior rower, challenges him. The Husky coach frequently trumpets Munn's sharp mind, and his ability to pick up on the minutia of the sport. This is evident in one of Munn's biggest hobbies - sports trivia. There are few in the Washington athletic department who can match Munn's encyclopedic knowledge of sports history, stats and personnel moves.
And like Callahan, Munn shares a singular desire to win. Above all, it's the ethos of the Washington program.
"I just love winning," said Munn, who has never lost a collegiate sprint race. "There's no better feeling. It's one of the reasons I got into this sport and when I started winning, it made me more hungry to continue."