Another Pull

Another Pull
Coxswain and crew: pulling an oar through Lexington Reservoir. / Photo by Denis Concordel

Muscle and oar and what moves them: day after day after day in the early morning hours, with men’s crew coach Jay Farwell ’94, J.D. ’01

There’s a glory to crew’s predawn workouts—an assurance that the day has already been put to good use before many people roll out of bed. And certainly nothing makes breakfast in Benson taste better than two hours spent pulling an oar through Lexington Reservoir.

But even Jay Farwell ’94, J.D. ’01, head coach of SCU men’s crew, acknowledges the obvious downside to the arrangement, especially when he’s talking on a soggy Friday morning in February. “Let’s be honest: Nobody likes to get up at five,” he says, still looking windblown at his law office three hours after getting off the lake. “It’s miserable.”

Farwell, though, is Exhibit A that bleary-eyed wake-up calls six days a week are small deterrent if you love what you’re doing. Why else would he be in the second year of this third stint with the team, following six years as coach from 1997 to 2003 and his student days as a rower?

With a wife, three small kids, and a law practice, Farwell had plenty of reasons to pass when the job opened up two years ago, but even before the opportunity arose he’d been talking with his wife about what to do when it did. He loves the sport. And even more, he loves the type of people it attracts. Experience isn’t necessary—some of his rowers have barely heard of crew when they arrive on campus—but heart is.

For him, the physical and mental tests of rowing were an education in the fact that through hard work and effort, things he thought were out of reach were in fact obtainable. “As a rower you quickly learn that you can endure a tremendous amount of pain and continue to endure the intense experience of rowing while [pushing] yourself well beyond your perceived limits,” he says. Helping other student-athletes learn the same lesson is part of what attracts him to coaching.

“I am just looking for guys who want to compete and have that kind of desire and fire in the belly,” he says. “There is no public payout in this sport. They aren’t looking for the limelight, they’re looking for an opportunity to compete at the collegiate level.”


Farwell also has a deep personal investment in the team. His father looms as perhaps the largest figure in Santa Clara crew’s history. As a student, Jim Farwell ’66 was a founding member of the crew. Back then they hauled old borrowed boats out to the salt marshes along the Bay near Moffett Field and trained themselves into an undefeated inaugural season in 1965.

The elder Farwell, later a decorated Vietnam veteran who died of cancer in 1992 at 48, also helped establish the women’s crew program in the mid-1970s and coached both teams for years before taking the helm at Stanford.

Coach Jay Farwell
Rise and shine: Coach Jay Farwell

His name is on one of SCU’s racing shells—as it is on the athletics department’s award for athletes who combine academic and athletic excellence.

The younger Farwell grew up with his dad’s zeal for the sport as a given. He’d watch races, or he’d walk into the family room to find his father breaking down film with rowers, but he resisted putting hand to oar himself until he was at Santa Clara. Undoubtedly, coaching now is a way to stay in touch with his dad’s legacy, he says.

Next year marks an opportunity to further connect with that history. The year 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the crew’s storied founding, an occasion Farwell expects to mark with a formal event that will bring back rowers from every chapter of the program’s past. He’s already been reaching out to the surviving members of the original 1965 team, and he plans to send out save-the-dates to as many other SCU rowers as they have records for.

Still, as precious and inspiring as the program’s past is to Farwell, it’s the present that provides his main motivation and is the real reason he’s at the boathouse by 6:15 a.m. He wants to bring the team to national prominence. “Our immediate goal is to qualify for the IRA National Championship,” he says, adding that from there he hopes to continue establishing Santa Clara rowing as a destination for top student-athletes. And if it’s up to him, his third time around with Santa Clara crew will be his longest.

“My intention is to keep coaching here for as long as the University will let me,” he says.

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