In many ways Summer Keyes was born to be involved in rowing.
Her grandfather was a rower. Her uncle was a rower. All three of her older brothers were rowers.
Now it’s her turn, but Keyes is taking a slightly different path with her rowing career.
Rather than pulling the oars, Keyes is directing from the back of the boat, serving as the coxswain on one of the Everett Rowing Association’s two boats that are heading to a national competition this weekend.
“I never really thought about it, but I guess I always knew it was something I’d end up doing,” Keyes, a senior at Arlington High School, said about her involvement in rowing.
Keyes and the rest of her boat, Everett’s boys lightweight eight plus coxswain, will be competing at the 2017 Youth National Championships beginning Friday in Sarasota, Florida. The boat qualified by winning at the 2017 Northwest Youth Championships on May 21 in Vancouver, Washington.
And though Keyes is neither a boy nor one of the rowers, as cox she’s played a vital role in the boat’s success the past two years.
“I think Summer was the reason why we were so successful last year and so far this year,” said Jack Nemiroff, a member of the boat. “She’s probably the most motivating cox I’ve ever rowed for. She really makes you pull hard.”
Keyes grew up attending her brothers’ regattas, so she’s always been around the sport. Her uncle, Sean Kincaid, rowed collegiately at Rice. Two of her brothers, Chip (Syracuse) and Tucker (Washington), also rowed in college. So it was natural that Keyes would also get into the sport.
She started out as a rower herself, but two years ago Keyes decided to change course.
“I started out rowing really young, so I kind of just wanted a change,” Keyes said. “I wanted a new challenge, so I figured I’d try something different.”
Thus her foray into coxing.
“I like to call them the mini-coaches,” Pat Secor, Everett’s boys varsity coach, said about coxes. “On race day the coaches can’t be out there to tell them what to do, so the cox is taking the coach’s role.
“The No. 1 job is safety. Their second job is to steer straight (the cox controls a rudder), which is harder than it actually seems. Then they tell them where they are in the race and where they are with the opponents as well. Motivating is a factor, too. The cox also tells them what they’re doing wrong, looking at their stroke to see the timing and bladework. That’s how a cox is a coach, in a way.”
How has Keyes performed as a cox? Well, she was the cox on Everett’s boys lightweight (150 pounds of fewer) eight last year that won at the Northwest championships and advanced to nationals, where it reached the semifinals. She piloted the boat to victory at the prestigious Brentwood Regatta in April in Mill Bay, British Columbia. Then she guided the boat to the title at the Northwest championships this year.
All while acting in a way that goes somewhat against her personality.
“I’m usually pretty shy, so I have to come out of my comfort zone to yell at them and talk to them,” Keyes said. “So that’s kind of hard for me.”
What about being a girl on a boys boat? Keyes began her coxing career on a girls boat. But Secor, who coached her brothers, soon switched her over to one of the boys boats. While that may seem like it could cause an awkward dynamic, it hasn’t.
“Summer’s grown up with brothers, so it’s easy for her and it’s easy for us,” boat member Jack McManis said. “She’s one of the guys, really.”
How are those “guys” going to do at nationals? It’s going to be a challenge. Everett had five members return from last year’s team that competed at nationals: Nemiroff, McManis, Alex Barrett, Parker Bumstead and Kyle Freeman. However, Bumstead and Freeman are also members of Everett’s boys varsity eight plus coxswain boat, which was Everett’s second boat to qualify for nationals. Bumstead and Freeman will row with the varsity eight boat this weekend, meaning call-ups Tyler Norby and Leo Kohorst will join full-time boat members Ethan Senn, Stephen Borkquist and Justin Dehart as first-timers at nationals.
“Some boat elements got switched around after regionals due to the varsity eight qualifying, so we had to bring in some new guys,” Barrett said. “We’re excited to see what they can do, and we’re excited to see what we can do with this new lineup. But it’s going to be a challenge to replace two of the fastest guys in the boat.”
Bumstead and Freeman join Cameron Helgerson, Chase Barrows, Ethan Grice, Chandler Kovacevich, Sam Willie, Dekker Lane and Dustin Mara (cox) in Everett’s varsity eight this weekend. That boat qualified for nationals by placing third at Northwest championships.
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