With a second-place finish at the recent Western Sprints Championships, the University of California San Diego men's rowing program qualified three boats for the upcoming IRA National Championships (June 2-4), the first time the Tritons will have a presence at the national regatta since 2013. Manning the key No. 4 seat in the prestigious varsity eight for head coach Zach Johnson will be senior Gibb Anella. The 6-foot-5 native of Albuquerque, N.M., is one person the veteran head coach knows he can count on. "Gibb was a walk-on and I wish I had 10 more just like him," says Johnson. "He does everything you ask for and more. I consider him the heart and soul of that varsity eight team." With the IRA regatta just over two weeks away, Gibb shared thoughts about his teammates, his introduction to the sport and his head coach.
Q: As a senior, what does it mean to you that UC San Diego's varsity eight has qualified for the IRA National Championships?
ANELLA: We're building legacy. I'm stoked that we as a team were able to do this, and I'm so proud and humbled to be a part of this team. But this is about more than us. It's about setting the standard for the future of the program.
Q: What has made that accomplishment possible with this group of athletes?
ANELLA: Over the past four years, we've developed a really fantastic team culture. We've started putting the pieces together. Everyone is immensely focused and team-oriented. There are a lot of guys that are truly passionate about the sport, and that helps with the overall energy of the team. Everyone shows up excited and ready to attack the next session (not easy to do when you're waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. every day for months).
Q: How would you describe the group personality of this year's boat?
ANELLA: Determined. We have a lot of the same people that were in the varsity last year. Six of the nine stayed. We lost to Oklahoma City at Western Sprints last year in a photo finish, and ended up missing going to nationals by less than a tenth of a second. So a lot of us came back focused on that. We hung a poster of the photo finish in the boathouse.
Q: You have family members who were rowers. How were you introduced to the sport and what's the first memory of your involvement in the sport? What about it still appeals to you?
ANELLA: My mom and uncle both rowed at Harvard. When my mom was helping me move in freshman year, she encouraged me to go talk to the coach. I tried out for the team and made it. This wasn't my first memory, but I remember walking to the whiteboard to check lineups one day during Spring Break training, and was shocked to see Zach had put me in the Varsity 8. I thought he had made a mistake. But I ended up racing the next four races in the V8.
Rowing appeals to me because in a sense, it's so simple. You either put in the work and trained hard enough, or you didn't, and someone beats you. Obviously there's a bit more to it than that, but that's the foundation of success in rowing. I've always been a believer in the 'nose to the grindstone' sort of mentality.
Q: What's it feel like, from the No. 4 seat, when you hit the halfway point of a 2000-meter race? What's going through your mind?
ANELLA: "Just 10 more (strokes)". Then you finish that 10 and you have to tell yourself, "Just 10 more," 12 more times. Races start to become pretty fuzzy for me about 500 meters in. I just do my best to hang on and add a little more power whenever Isa (V8 coxswain Isa Batki) calls us up.
Q: What is something that an outsider would be surprised to know about the sport of rowing?
ANELLA: First of all, it requires a lot more coordination, precision and balance than most people think. Everyone has to move their bodies exactly the same, and keep their blades precisely level, or the boat gets 'unset', and the shell slows down. Second, in terms of the power that goes into each stroke, 60 percent comes from the legs, 30 percent from the core and back, and only 10 percent from the arms. The lactic acid that builds up in the legs is what makes rowing so painful.
Q: Talk about the strengths of your coach, Zach Johnson. What's the funniest thing he's ever told the team before or after a race?
ANELLA: Zach is the most charismatic man I've met. I've known Zach for four years, and he still never fails to surprise me. Last year, four days before the San Diego Crew Classic, we accidentally crashed our boat, destroying the first few feet of it. Our boat was, at the time, one of eight Hudson USP's in the whole world, a $60,000 shell. Within 20 minutes, Zach had gotten a hold of one of the coaches at Stanford, which had the only other boat the same size as ours, and gotten him to send it on a trailer down to the race for us.
He always calms us down before races. He has extremely high, sometimes daunting expectations, yet encourages us that those goals are within reach. He's well-connected. If he wasn't so passionate about rowing, he would have made one heck of a business man. In addition to being a great coach, he's a great life mentor, and always has time to offer advice on other things outside rowing. He's not really one for being funny immediately before or after races. We're all too focused.
Q: Why are you a better rower today than you were when you arrived at UC San Diego?
ANELLA: Well I didn't know how to row at all when I first arrived since I picked it up freshman year. But I'm a better rower because of my teammates and coaching staff. I've been lucky enough to row with some really great guys, guys that were winning nationals in high school. Some of the older guys really helped me my first couple years, taking the time to help me overcome my initial lack of experience. I've learned a lot about myself and how much the human body can take.
Q: You're from Albuquerque, N.M., and have been a volunteer firefighter since the age of 16? What got you interested in that, what kind of training is involved and what has been the most treacherous situation you've encountered?
ANELLA: My stepfather was a firefighter, so I got involved because of him. I started as a volunteer at age 16, did all my training, and was fully certified as a structural firefighter and wildland firefighter by the time I was 18. Training for both consists of lots of class time, physical conditioning, and training exercises. We'd start every morning with about an hour of running and bodyweight circuits. Then, throughout class, the instructor would randomly call us out to perform 'bunker drills'. You have to drop everything, get out to the bays where you store all your gear, and be in full gear in under a minute. It sounds hard, but just like anything else, you get the hang of it. I was never in unnecessarily dangerous situations. The thing with firefighting is that you train hard and take the necessary precautions so that you're almost always safe. I've been in burning buildings and on the line of wildfires. I suppose the sketchiest situation was a house fire in a somewhat questionable part of town in the foothills outside Albuquerque. The way the fire was burning and because of how hot it was, we were pretty sure it was a meth lab.
Q: You have a double major in mathematics and management science, and two minors in business and philosophy. Coupled with rowing, that sounds pretty daunting. How to you manage to make it all work?
ANELLA: You just do it. You sleep a little bit less, you work a little bit harder. I do these things because I want to do them. I like the stuff I'm learning in school, and I love rowing. I'm also most happy when I'm working and being productive.
Q: What do you like to do when have down time?
ANELLA: I love to read. I'm currently working on all the Sherlock Holmes novels. I play piano ('play' being used in the broadest sense of the term). I like doing other sports, fitness in general, and being outside.
Q: One of your favorite movies is the original Die Hard. What's your favorite part of the film and how would you compare yourself to John McClane (played by Bruce Willis in the movie)?
ANELLA: Yippie ki-yay. To be honest, there are too many classic parts of the movie to choose one. Maybe when John McClane walks barefoot on broken glass, that's pretty cool. Mental fortitude and all that. I would never compare myself to John McClane. He's a badass.
Q: You studied abroad last summer and had the opportunity to attend the Royal Henley Regatta in London. What were your impressions of one of the world's premier rowing events?
ANELLA: Rowing is much more popular in England and Europe in general than it is in the U.S. It was cool to see it as such a spectator sport, even if most people are just there to dress up and drink Pimms. The venue is also amazing. Henley-on-Thames is such a charming town in the middle of the English countryside, and particularly beautiful in the summer.
Q: In what will be your last collegiate race, what are you most looking forward to on the trip up to Rancho Cordova's Lake Natoma?
ANELLA: We have the potential to have the best finish in UCSD Men's Rowing history. I'm impressed by the work ethic of everyone on the team, I'm proud of the upperclassmen for setting the bar high, and I'm excited with the direction the program is headed. We have a great balance of some talented younger guys and some experienced leadership in the older people. All of our boats are quick, but I think each still has another notch up to go. I'm most excited to see just how far we can push it.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
JD Hearn (Baseball) April 5, 2017
Britta Mosser (Women's Tennis) March 22, 2017
Michael Cohn (Men's Swimming & Diving) February 22, 2017
Dalayna Sampton (Women's Basketball) February 8, 2017
Milosh Stojcic (Men's Volleyball) January 27, 2017
Chris Hansen (Men's Basketball) December 26, 2016
Cassie MacLeod (Women's Basketball) December 16, 2016
Natalie Tang (Women's Swimming & Diving) November 18, 2016
Nolan Mac (Men's Soccer) October 13, 2016
Scott Acton (Men's Cross Country) October 6, 2016
Marie Paris (Women's Volleyball) September 16, 2016
Kiera Bocchino (Women's Soccer) September 2, 2016
Nick Alexander (Men's Water Polo) August 23, 2016
Karina Carstens (Women's Cross Country) August 8, 2016
Amanda Colla (Women's Volleyball) July 22, 2016
Palano Twins (Men's Soccer) July 13, 2016
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