By Jay Tram ’20
If you struggle with an academic essay, you go to Mr. Abbott. If you need to cry about life, you go to Mr. Abbott. That’s a universal truth at St. John’s. Once a student, now a tutor, Mr. Abbott has been a sweet, helpful and intelligent figure at this school. His love and dedication are not limited by the Great Books program but also laid out in engagement with the crew team as a rower for many years and now a coach.
Any student coming out at 6:00 AM for Crew is incredible, and for a tutor to do that seems impossible. When asked how he does it, Mr. Abbott said, “I was given a calendar and learned to make good use of it. I make sure every minute I have is planned!” Explaining why: it motivates him to have a happy and productive day by starting it early with crew team members. The essence of doing Crew has also blended to his social life on a daily basis since he started rowing as a freshman at St. John’s years ago. Crew invited Mr. Abbott to be part of a friendly, welcoming and educational environment where he became closer to his teammates as well as upperclassmen. The friendships Mr. Abbott builds through Crew now extends to all sorts of people. As a coach it’s important that he understands his rowers— Johnnies— as individuals in order to push them to be their best. This has amazingly improved these students’ college experiences because many of them find it a gift that they have someone not only to teach them in class but also to guide them to develop themselves in the long-run.
Interestingly enough, Crew itself, as one of the oldest human sports, seems to blur the line between a classroom setting and the world outside. Indeed, the Great Books program at St. John’s fits together with rowing. Mr. Abbott experiences the beauty and complexity of the Program books while being on the water, thinking about “Odysseus rowing back from Troy, or Aeneas holding the races between the ships in the Aeneid, or about the Psalm in the Bible, ‘They that go down to the sea in ships; These see the work of the Lord.’” As in lab we deepen our understanding by setting up iconic phenomena, we come to a better understanding of and master our knowledge from other classes while doing crew. Be it math, literature, physics, politics, or psychology, students and coaches find themselves learning from and applying academic lessons to their lives as rowers in various unexpected ways.
Crew is here for the College community, and specifically for absolute beginners in the sport. One can begin by knowing nothing, and after a few months have become an old hand. Crew members know where things are in the boathouse, they have a sense for the rhythm of a good stroke, they know what will encourage and help others. From a larger perspective, the crew team defines itself as a political, democratic, and non- individualist community. As rowers, students learn to support each other’s weaknesses and develop one another’s strengths. Captains and coxswains train themselves to pay close attention to their teammates and make sure everyone receives the support they need to row. Crew is a place where everyone can work hard and have fun together.
Despite knowing all the reasons Crew is fun and important, many people still wonder if they can handle the Crew routine (early mornings and long workouts). To respond to that, Mr. Abbott would encourage them to “try it! If doesn’t work out, you lose nothing. If it makes the rest of your life— which could seem chaotic, —come into focus, then it’s for you.” If you need a place to hold your heart during college, let it be Crew!