Q&A With Senior Rower Ryan Andre


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Ryan Andre is a Civil War buff and he owes the start of his rowing career to his mom.
Ryan Andre is a Civil War buff and he owes the start of his rowing career to his mom.
Courtesy: UCSD
In the opinion of UC San Diego Men’s Crew Coach Zach Johnson, senior Ryan Andre has clearly earned a place as one of the premier rowers in program history. Chosen as the outstanding novice as a freshman, Andre has held a seat in the Triton varsity eight boat since his sophomore season. He was part of the Cal Cup championship team at the 2007 San Diego Crew Classic, as well as San Diego City Championship varsity eight squad the last two years. In the summer of 2008, Andre represented the United States at the Under 23 World Championships in Germany. “Ryan is far and away the leader on our team and the guy everyone looks up to,” says Johnson. “He holds all of our lightweight records and his power-to-weight ratio is amazing. He’s a kid who just doesn’t know how to lose.” With the 2009 Crew Classic looming this weekend, Andre talks about his sport and his career at UCSD.

Q: This weekend you’ll be part of UCSD’s varsity eight in the annual San Diego Crew Classic. What’s special about rowing in this event?
ANDRE: The Crew Classic is our biggest home race and we always want to be the fastest crew on our own water. It is also the second largest spring regatta, behind only the national championship, so it’s really important to do well at this race for the sake of rankings. If you can win it, then you've beaten 20 teams in just two days. That’s a lot of confidence to take into your later season training.

Q: UCSD will be in the Cal Cup field which includes primarily Division I crews. How would you handicap your boat’s chances and what are the keys to doing well?
ANDRE: I think we will do very well considering the boat we are putting out this year. We are both stronger and more technically savvy than I think UCSD has ever been, but even so, we have a lot of younger rowers in the boat. The racing will be six boats wide, which we haven't done yet this season. There are also usually really big crowds on the beaches watching and cheering—so there will be a lot of distractions that we're going to have to ignore to do our best. We move really well when we're zeroed in, so I think that will be our key.

Q: What are the team’s season-long objectives and how does this weekend play into those goals?
ANDRE: This year is special because the national championship is in California for the first time ever and I think this year we have a great chance of getting invited. Getting that invite has been our goal from day one. We love winning throughout the season, especially the big races like the Crew Classic, but at the end of the day its how you do in the championship races that really counts. Generally placing well at Crew Classic is more of a gauge of speed to make sure we're on pace, and a gut-check for the rowers.

Q: UCSD Men’s Crew has won five consecutive San Diego City Championships over San Diego State and USD. Is that a source of pride for the team?
ANDRE: Good crews row well because they have confidence, and confidence comes largely from how you carry yourself around your body of water. We have been the fastest crew on this bay for five years now, and that fact alone makes us work to a certain level. This year will be especially important because USD has become very competitive recently. We have a great relationship with the USD guys and want to see them do well, but we, of course, prefer to be the faster boat when it comes down to it. It’s a great rivalry because it’s both respectful and extremely competitive.

Q: This past summer, you competed in Europe at the World Championships as a member of the USA Under 23 Team. What was that experience like and how did it feel to represent your country?
ANDRE: The process for making the team was the first and most important experience for me. The work that we had to do to make boats in the selection process and the subsequent training was all incredible. I have never been so immersed in one goal in my whole life. Once we went abroad I think the experience was overall very humbling. I remember rowing by one rower who was from Denmark. He was the fastest lightweight rower of any age to ever race on the rowing machine. I believe the Italian pair in our event was the fastest lightweight pair in the world of any age. Despite the incredible competition there was also a lot of pride to be had for the U.S. We won a number of events and cheering them down the course was incredible. It’s really cool when “USA” is your team, and wearing that jersey brings a lot of meaning to all of your work.

Q: Do you expect to be participating in the national team program in the future?
ANDRE: I really can't say whether I will or won't. I always think that I want to go off and do something else for a summer, but then I get that competitive itch and end up rowing all summer. I know I want to go to graduate school and also try some coaching, but I'm sure somewhere along the way I'll be compelled to get back out and race.

I think for the immediate future a lot will depend on how I end this season physically and technically. I think if I am on track with my fitness I can have the raw power to match a lot of the national team rowers. But they have a lot of experience and excellent technique. I think my rowing keeps getting technically better, but whether its good enough for national team rowing by the end of the year, I don't really know yet.

Q: Your hometown, New Canaan, Connecticut, is not exactly a hotbed of future UCSD student-athletes. How did you wind up in La Jolla?
ANDRE: Well I think the biggest factor was that I wanted to get out of the Northeast. I love New England and I do miss the seasons, but I am originally from Texas and knew that there were places out there without five month winters. My mom spent some time at UCSD as an undergrad, so she introduced me to the school. I remember I really liked how different it was from Connecticut when I came out to visit. I also thought that the rowing coaches really appreciated their athletes, and I liked that the program was a funded varsity program.

Q: How and when did you get started in the sport of rowing?
ANDRE: In high school I used to wrestle and play tennis in the winter and spring, but in the fall I never had a sport. I think it really came down to my mom getting tired of having me sitting around the house. She had started rowing a few years earlier, so she dragged me to the boathouse fall of sophomore year and handed me over to the coach. I didn't understand the sport right away, but the other rowers were a lot of fun. Once I started appreciating all the unique aspects of the sport, I was hooked.

Q: Most people think of rowers as being much larger in stature than you are. What allows you to compete successfully in a sport that would seem to reward size?
ANDRE: The ideal rower is very tall and lean with great power and endurance. I don't think that I am ideal in any of these aspects, at least naturally. I like the quote “talent is never enough” because it applies so well to rowing. If you work really hard you can put yourself on a very competitive level even if you're starting behind. On the other hand, you can be big and athletic and not make the boat if you don't work hard. It’s really a sport for people that like to grind away quietly every single day. You have to keep in mind that our freshman squad cuts from about 100 to 16, with most of those cuts coming because people don't want to deal with the grind that the sport requires. So I guess I'd have to say it’s the work ethic that can level the playing field for smaller guys.

Q: What are some things that the layman would find surprising about crew? What do you find most gratifying about the sport?
ANDRE:  I think people would have a hard time imagining the balance and coordination between individuals that the sport requires. When it’s done well its just really addictive. I guess it’s almost like hitting a ball right on the 'sweet spot' over and over again thirty times a minute—just really rewarding. Also all the factors involved in a good crew are incredible, from the personnel and fitness to the coaching and equipment.

Q: How would you describe Head Coach Zach Johnson and how important is he to the team’s success?
ANDRE: I think Zach is a big part of UCSD's success. In rowing the coach has to be respected the way you respect a god. You absolutely have to trust what the coach says or else the boat isn't coordinated. There are just way too many factors to be doing things your own way. Even if the coach is wrong, things generally work out better if all eight people do it wrong than if one person does it differently.

I think Zach has the best grasp on fitness I've seen so far, and the unique stroke that he teaches is difficult to execute but really effective when it’s done well. Moreover, I think he gets a lot of respect from the guys for being so demanding. I think the people that have been with the team longest know that he gives a sort of tough love. When you screw up, you know that he still likes you, but you have to run hills anyway.

Q: You were a history major at UCSD. What era of history do you find the most interesting and why?
ANDRE: I really like the periods of transition. As you might imagine, those are generally the most interesting periods in history. In particular I really like the Civil War period in the U.S. I think it was a crucial period that pointed to where America would go with respect to both the interpretation of our Constitution and the nature of our collective morality.

Q: You’ve already graduated and your collegiate athletic career will be over at the conclusion of the 2009 season. What’s on your horizon?
ANDRE: Well I'll definitely be thinking that over a lot more now that I have some free time. I know that I want to go to graduate school and that I would like to give coaching a try. I think the two might combine nicely to put me through graduate school cheaply. If I can find a graduate coaching position somewhere I will definitely pursue it.

Q: Looking back, what is the most significant thing you’ve derived from being a member of the UCSD Men’s Crew program?
ANDRE: The most significant thing would have to be all the great people I've met here in the San Diego rowing community and abroad. Other than that, I think I learned a lot about what hard work really is. There were a lot of moments when I really didn't want to go to practice and a lot of workouts that I didn't want to start, much less finish.

I mean, waking at 5:00 AM or earlier everyday and then doing the workouts we do after that, is asking a lot of kids with a full load of classes and even jobs. You learn to appreciate the things you don't want to do simply because they get you to where you want to be.


Previous Q & A Articles

Josh Tanner (Baseball) March 24, 2009

Anju Shimura (Women's Swimming) March 7, 2009
Stephanie Bocian (Women's Water Polo) February 20, 2009
Lauren Chastain (Softball) February 5, 2009
A.J. Maulhardt (Men's Basketball) January 28, 2009
Annette Ilg (Women's Basketball) January 22, 2009 
Steven Hardy (Men's Swimming) January 13, 2009

Frank Fritsch (Men's Volleyball) January 5, 2009

Kendall Bohn (Women's Swimming) December 22, 2008
Kelvin Kim (Men's Basketball) December 15, 2008  
Michelle Osier (Women's Basketball) December 5, 2008  
Sylvia Schmidt (Women's Volleyball) November 7, 2008 
Denny Harper (Men’s Water Polo Head Coach) October 17, 2008
Ron Larsen (USA Volleyball Assistant Coach) October 13, 2008 
Jessica McGovern (Women's Soccer) October 6, 2008
Bre Schofield (Cross Country) September 26, 2008
Tony Fernandez (Men's Soccer) September 18,2008
Kimberly Carpenter (Women's Volleyball) September 12, 2008
A.J. Kotanjian (Men’s Water Polo) September 2, 2008
Peter Akman (Men's Soccer) August 21, 2008
Natasha Belak-Berger (Women's Soccer) August 15, 2008
Jake LaVieux (Men's Cross Country) August 8, 2008
Dr. Penny Rue (Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs) July 30, 2008 
Michelle Torres (Women's Volleyball) July 15, 2008 
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer Head Coach) July 1, 2008
Julie Ertel (Athletics) June 16, 2008
Clint Allard (Men's Basketball) June 9, 2008
Jen Myers (Women's Crew) May 27, 2008
Casey Ryan (Men's Track and Field and Men's Basketball) May 21, 2008