Troy Howell has coached with us several summers now making the trek northeast from Dallas, TX. He's currently a rowing coach for the Episcopal School of Dallas as well as being an active competitor in the single and double. This summer, Troy and his wife Kimberly will be moving to Savannah, Georgia, where he'll be teaching history and coaching crew at Savannah Country Day School. Georgia brings him closer to his stepdaughter Kai'li in her 2nd year at the University of Virginia - his alma mater.
CSC: How did you start rowing/sculling? What attracted you?
I'm originally from Edmond, Oklahoma. The first time that rowing and sculling made an impression on me was watching Karpinnen win the '84 Olympics on TV at my brother's house. I turned to him and said "Y'know, those boats are pretty cool." He's never missed a chance to remind me that when he grew up, our parents weren't as well off as they were during my childhood, so he immediately took that angle, saying "You want one of those, don't you? You think mom and dad will buy you one, don't you? Do you have any idea how much those things COST!?"
I started rowing at UVA in 1987, when I found a handbill lying on the sidewalk saying "come join the crew - no experience necessary" and listing a date and time for a novice meeting. Dave Lilly (a Craftsbury regular) was my novice coach that fall, Will Scoggins in the spring, and Kevin Sauer the following year. Dave told me at the Dad Vail in May of 1988 that he had cut me in the fall, because he had decided not to take any 3rd year students as novices.
It makes a good story, but his memory is faulty. I checked the list after the erg tryout that fall, and my name was definitely there. So Dave went through the year thinking that I had just refused to be cut and kept showing up at practice, but the truth is that he didn't cut me.
CSC: Do you train to race or race to train? i.e. is training something you just have to put up with to get to the good stuff? Or is the racing a way to provide an excuse to train?
I really think they're the same thing, except that there are more people watching at races. I do both just to see how fast I can go, and I like to try to prove to myself that I can go as fast when nobody's watching and nobody else is pushing me as I can when someone is. Sometimes I catch myself rowing harder when there's someone rowing next to me and it always makes me ask "why weren't you doing that already?"
CSC: One's goals often shift as you age, what's your motivation currently?
I am 41, but I don't think of myself as a masters' athlete, with no insult intended to the term or the concept - I've done Masters Nationals several times. My goal is still to go faster every year, and so far I haven't had a year that I couldn't point to something and say "that proves that I'm faster than I was last year." Last year it was the Head of the Hosmer. Two years ago it was going under 3 hours in a double for the Marathon in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The year before that it was doing 1000m in a single in under 3:35. My 2k erg time hasn't budged in ten years, and in fact it's about ten seconds slower than my personal best, but I know for a fact that if I could race my 2007 self in a single against my 1995 self, 2007 would win by a good margin. I don't know what I'm going to do when I finally do have to admit, categorically and based on quantifiable things, that I've gotten slower. Play a lot more golf and enjoy rowing better with less horsepower, I guess.
CSC: I know you work a fair bit on developing balance - can you tell us a bit about your exercises? Have you felt good about the results you're getting through this work?
I started working on balance after watching a guy at the Dallas Rowing Club sit at full compression in a single with his blades out of the water for a good ten seconds. It made me jealous, and I've been playing with balance ever since. It's a very trainable thing - people say "Oh, I just don't have good balance" but unless you have inner-ear disorders or something like that, it just isn't really true that you "don't have good balance." That's another thing I think most people don't understand: that when you're sculling (or doing any physical skill) you're training your nervous system, not just your muscles and heart and lungs.
I don't have any protocol for balance exercises, though. I just decide on something I want to be able to do, and then I start trying to do it. It took me about six months to be able to stand on a stability ball, and another six to be able to do a squat on one. Right now I'm working on a one-foot cross-legged yoga posture (I'm sure it has a name, but I don't know it). It's taken longer, and it frustrates me, but I'm getting closer week by week. We can't all dance like Fred Astaire, but we can all get a lot closer than we think.
CSC: I've heard that Texas is sculling only for high school age kids. Is this true, and if so, what's your take on it?
Texas scholastic rowing has historically been sculling only, although there are currently a couple of programs who want to get eights and fours added to the program at the state championships. I think sculling is a healthier activity for young rowers, and that sculling almost inevitably creates a more versatile rower than sweep rowing. I don't buy the numbers argument, that you can get more people to participate for fewer dollars with eights. While I'll admit that there are few greater thrills in rowing than being in a really fast, victorious eight, I'll also argue vociferously that you'll be in a whole lot more fast eights if you learn to move a single well while you're young. I tell my scullers "if you can't row a single and a pair, you're fooling yourself if you think you can row at all."
CSC: What's the most common mistake you see athletes making?
I think the biggest mistake I see is poor rhythm. Almost everyone has little hitches in their stroke that break the continuity of the stroke cycle and very few people really understand how much that slows them down.
CSC: The Mercedes. I've seen what I believe is the same vehicle for the past several years - the vintage Mercedes. Year/Make/Model? Is this your first, or one of a long line? Am I remembering correctly that it's diesel? If so, any likelihood of converting it to biodiesel?
It's a 1985 300 Turbo Diesel. It is my first, but it's a lot like one my parents owned when I was growing up (a 280 SE). Honestly, if I could restore it to showroom quality, I wouldn't trade it for any make or model of ANY car. Even as is, I think it's the best car on earth, bar none. Funny you should ask about biodiesel, because one of the kids on my crew at ESD (and a Craftsbury camper last year) converted his 240D to run on pure vegetable oil, which is all he uses now. I want to see how his car does before I think about the conversion, because I wouldn't want to ruin my favorite car.
CSC: What's the best thing about coaching at Craftsbury?
Too many things to name, but here's a few: hearing how other coaches teach things, Lake Hosmer, the food, and watching how campers act before, during and after the Head of the Hosmer.
Home body of water: Bachman Lake - directly under Love Field's flight path.
Best regatta nationwide: Stotesbury Cup
Favorite workout: There are too many, but here's one: 7 X 3 minutes, negative split, increasing rating from 28-36, 3 minutes rest between
Prettiest part of Texas: Fort Worth
Best shell: Sykes HKCC Ultimate I mold.
Best blades: C2 Fat Smoothie2 with narrow grips
Heart rate monitor or speedcoach: Both for training, neither for racing.
Piece of gear I can't live without: I don't think there is one.
Best oarsman of the carbon oar era: Hard question. I'm tempted to jump the gender fence and pick Rutschow-Stomporowski. Maybe I'm not giving enough credit to Waddell and Drysdale, though. They're both awfully fast. And how about Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve? How can you pick just one (of either gender)? Even though he ultimately stuck with sweep, I don't know how you can make a case that anyone's been more impressive than Redgrave in the modern era. I watched him with Pinsent, cruising to horizon-job victories at Henley in the pair in 1992 at 22 spm for the second half of the race. Those two were awesome.
Chili: Hot enough to make you sweat, not so hot that you can't taste it.