May 22, 2011
Posted in the story is race highlights of the varsity eights from the 25th annual Windermere Cup, specifically composed to show you the sights and sounds of the event.
SEATTLE - It was bad enough that a devastating hip injured knocked Bede Clarke out of most of his junior season at Washington. But when the affable Australian realized the injury would keep him off his beloved surfboard as well, the frustration really set in.
Last year, Clarke was crushed when doctors diagnosed him with a fracture in his hip bone, in addition to a torn labrum. The injury wiped out his junior season, and threw a wrench into what had been a promising Husky rowing career.
Clarke first noticed trouble in his hip at the beginning of his sophomore year (2009-10), when the joint barked after training and races. Although it was painful, a diet of steady rehab and anti-inflammatory medication allowed Clarke to compete. The season ended with a flourish as the Huskies dominated the 2009 IRA National Championships, including a gold medal for Clarke in the second varsity eight.
Yet when Clarke went home that summer, even the simplest of tasks proved difficult. He walked "like an old man." And forget surfing, a sport he's passionate about and able to do with regularity given his family's home in Wallabi Point, Australia, a quiet beachfront town about four hours north of Sydney in New South Wales. Clarke went to a doctor who specialized in dealing with rugby athletes, and an MRI revealed the true ruination in his hip. Rehab gave way to surgery.
Forget a timetable for returning to row. Clarke had to relearn how to walk properly. A year of favoring his hip had zapped much of the strength out of the connecting leg.
"The leg needed a lot of rehab," Clarke said. "I had to change everything I had done up to that point."
As a power-endurance sport, rowing demands its athletes have a high level of fitness. When Clarke returned, he was behind most of his teammates. What allowed him to make a full return this year - and even earn a spot in the program's varsity four boat - was a monastic level of discipline. Clarke lifted extra weights to strengthen his leg. He changed his diet and put in extra rehab.
During winter training in the Conibear Shellhouse erg room, Clarke turned each teammate into a target. He would move up the ladder, setting new PRs on pieces. Sitting out an entire season had clearly fueled him. When the Huskies practiced on the water, Clarke seat-raced and won a spot in the varsity four, despite having switched sides to starboard to protect his surgically repaired hip.
"I had a lot of fire built up inside," Clarke said. "It was so hard to not be on the team."
The story of how Clarke overcame adversity resonates with men's crew coach Michael Callahan, who knew this would be a difficult hurdle for his rower to overcome.
"There were some low points, for sure, with Bede," Callahan said. "We didn't want to hurt the rest of his life. So it was all there in front of him. He had to be patient and at times it was discouraging."
Callahan recruited Clarke to Washington, competing with interest from Ivy League schools. He lauded Clarke's technique on the oar, which was honed at prep school in Sydney and the Australian junior national team.
"He brings something to the team besides just rowing," Callahan said. "But whatever boat he's in he makes it better. A lot of coaches are impressed with big ergs. But we recruited him for his technique on the oar."
The redshirt junior is set to graduate this summer with a degree from the Foster School of Business. Although he still has a year of eligibility remaining at UW, Clarke has recurring flare-ups with his hip and said it needs a full year of rehab, and possibly another surgery after the season ends. So he's fashioned a tentative plan to teach English in Indonesia for a year. Not coincidentally, the South Pacific nation is a surfer's paradise.
Clarke recalled photographs in his parent's home of him standing on a surfboard at two years old, so his love of the sport is no surprise. The hobby turned serious when Clarke was 13. Before the season, Clarke and two teammates (A.J. Brooks and Ryan Schroeder) made the drive up the coast from Los Angeles to Seattle, monitoring surf breaks on Google Earth and stopping periodically to break out the boards. They camped off the side of the road, laughing and swapping stories the entire trip.
"We had all these fun experiences all the way up to Seattle," Clarke said.
On the team, Clarke's fun-loving personality makes him a popular figure. He particularly loves the dynamic of his boat. Clarke rows the three seat, sandwiched between Schroeder and Matt Zapel, who he shared a freshmen boat with in 2008.
"It's really great being in a boat with great friends," Clarke said. "We're so tight together, and we just want to pull hard for each other. That makes it easy."
A dream ending, of course, would be a National Championship at the IRAs. Clarke's boat is coming off a dominating performance at the Pac-10 Championships, which saw the Husky four win by almost 20 seconds.
"That would be pretty cool, huh?" Clarke said. "I mean, we talk about it all the time. Both Matt and I didn't get to row last year, and this would be a nice way to say goodbye."