SEATTLE — There is a moral to the story Max Weaver brought into Saturday’s Windermere Cup race, and it’s not hard to find. One need not dive into the darkest depths of the Montlake Cut to come up with the meaning behind the story of a man who gives up the sport he loves, finds his way back, and bec
omes the most respected leader on his team.
That lesson is easy to discern. But it’s one Michael Callahan, Weaver’s coach on the University of Washington men’s crew team, would just as soon leave for another program.
“Quitting,” Callahan said, “is not something I want to be in our voca
In a sport that feeds on perseverance above all else, Weaver had to quit rowing to figure out how much it meant to him.
“I’m so glad I came back,” said Weaver, a Snohomish High School graduate. “I’m proud of the person I became versus the person that I was.”
In late March, shortly after his team competed in the annual Class Day on the Montlake Cut, Weaver was given the title of captain of the 2011 UW men’s crew team. It’s an esteemed honor that is bestowed on only one Husky a year, complete with a white paddle adorned with a green star that the honoree uses at every meet.
A fifth-year senior who delayed graduation just to compete for another year, Weaver took the honor as the ultimate compliment.
“I’m really honored to have the position,” Weaver said this week as he prepared to row with the junior-varsity 8 boat at the 25th annual Windermere Cup. “Looking back on the past, I never thought I would have gone here or been awarded this position. I had pretty humble beginnings, rowing for the Everett Rowing Association. I’ve never been on the national team or anything like that. So for my peers to elect me, I’m really grateful for it.”
Three years have passed since Weaver gave up the sport in a huff. He had a promising freshman season that included a second-place finish at the Pac-10 championships but returned the next fall to learn he had to earn his role all over again. Weaver thought he’d done enough to prove himself. So he decided to quit.
“I was just being young and ignorant,” Weaver said. “I just decided that I didn’t want to row.”
Weaver informed Callahan during a short meeting in the coach’s office. There was very little debate. While Callahan wanted Weaver, whom he called “one of the most talented (freshmen) I ever coached,” to return, he had sensed the young man’s frustration. So he let Weaver walk away, all the while knowing he might be back.
“I try not to close the door on guys trying to come back,” Callahan said. “In college, it’s difficult — to go to school, to train 20 hours a week. It’s tough. And when you aren’t seeing things unfold the perfect way you thought they would, that can be hard.”
During his sophomore year, Weaver attended the Huskies’ first home race and immediately knew he’d made a mistake.
“When I really felt it sting was opening day that year,” he said. “I missed it. I missed being around the guys. But then when they started racing here at home, I was like: ‘Man, I really need to be back with the team. I need to be with my friends.'”
Callahan welcomed him back with open arms, and Weaver returned with a new sense of dedication.
“He earned it back,” Callahan said. “Not by talk, but by being quiet and working hard.”
Weaver spent the summer between his sophomore and junior years getting back into shape. He rejoined the team in 2009 and two years later holds the honorary title of team captain. In the truest of team sports, Weaver stood out and earned respect as an individual.
“He is friends with everybody on the team — from the freshmen to the seniors,” said junior teammate Mathis Jessen, a member of the varsity 8 boat and one of the Huskies’ top rowers. “He’s a very motivated guy, so he motivates us through all the workouts. He just has a great attitude.”
Weaver doesn’t have any regrets, especially now that he’s looked upon as the Huskies’ leader. “I wouldn’t have done anything different,” he said. “I’m happy with how things turned out.”
Weaver has been rowing since the eighth grade. He first learned about the sport when friend Michael Welly talked him into attending a demonstration put on by Irma Erickson, widow of longtime UW crew coach Dick Erickson.
“I think I showed up in a pair of jeans. I had my blade flapping on the water,” he recalled. “But I really fell in love with the sport.”
A former basketball player and accomplished swimmer at Snohomish High, Weaver thrived as a member of the Everett Rowing Association and soon became a target of the Huskies.
“He was one of the top five guys in that class,” Callahan said of the 2007 recruiting class. “He was one of those have-to-have guys. He was a Northwest kid, a cornerstone who loved the program, one of those hard-working guys that you need to plug into the system.”
“It took a little longer than expected, but it worked out.”
It has worked out for both parties.
“You sweat with these guys, you bleed with these guys, and that’s what really forms friendships,” he said. “We say it all the time here: ‘These are the guys you’re going to row with, and these are the guys that are going to become your friends, your brothers and the guys who carry the casket at your funeral.'”
And so maybe the moral isn’t so much about what it takes to walk back through the door as it is about the people waiting for you on the other side.
They were the ones who made it possible for Max Weaver to go out not as a quitter, but as the most respected man among men.
“It’s never too late,” Callahan said. “They’re people, they’re kids and they’re growing up. They’re all navigating themselves through this part of their life.
“It doesn’t all go perfect, but they get there.”