Many high school athletes in high-profile sports such as football and basketball dream of continuing their careers in college. Yet, for Monona Grove High School graduate Levi Beckett, he chose a different activity that’s not played in an enclosed arena.
Since the end of eighth grade, Beckett has been an avid rower, a strenuous sport involving a team of oarsmen navigating a long, narrow boat down a thin piece of river nearly 4 miles long. The object is to make the boat go faster than your competitors and reach the finish line first.
Beckett recently completed his junior year at Columbia University in New York where he is studying computer science and mathematics. He competes on the Lions varsity eight lightweight rowing team, which involves eight rowers, all sweeping the water with one oar. Beckett has served as the team’s bowman, or “bow,” who sits in the rear of the boat furthest from the coxswain, who faces the rowers from the stern and helps coordinate their speed and rhythm during races.
Lightweight refers to the weight of rowers who average 154 pounds each with no competitor allowed to tip the scales over 160 pounds.
Columbia’s varsity eight lightweight team was victorious in four events in the just-completed spring season and ended fourth in the 2019 Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships in Sacramento, California. The team primarily competes against other Ivy League schools – Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Cornell, Dartmouth – but also races against other teams from the east including Army, Navy, Delaware and Georgetown.
Beckett said rowing has opened many doors and provided him the opportunity to visit different parts of the U.S. and England. But working to stay in shape is a difficult process.
“It’s really a thankless sport, and you are doing it for yourself with the amount of work you put in,” said Beckett, who took an interest in rowing with the Camp Randall Rowing Club, located at Madison’s Brittingham Park.
He began the sport during a summer camp to get in shape for the upcoming football season at Monona Grove. After completing the camp, he deciding he wanted to devote all his time to rowing.
The club competed all over the Midwest and in Wisconsin, racing in locations such as the Rock River and the Milwaukee River.
Practices were held before and after school with the team having as many as nine practices per week.
One of Beckett’s biggest highlights was competing in the Head of the Charles Regatta, a race held in Boston. The international event draws 80 teams and as many as 400,000 spectators.
Before graduating from MG in 2016, Beckett reached out to several universities in the East with hopes of landing a place on their rowing teams. He was invited to visit Columbia University, where he attended practices and met with team members. Eventually he accepted a spot with the Lions.
“I was so excited to be there and a bit nervous about meeting the guys. I wanted to make a good impression with the coaches and the team. They decide if they want you and are willing to give you a spot,” Beckett said. “Seeing the program and seeing the school, I was just amazed at the level that everyone was working and how cohesive the team was. When they offered me a spot, I couldn’t help but accept it on the spot.”
Aside from his demanding academic schedule, Beckett is expected to devote a certain number of hours weekly to training by using indoor rowing machines at the school.
Just like other college sports, staying in tip-top shape is vital to the success of a rowing team.
Beckett recalled one race against Navy where Columbia’s margin of victory was .3 seconds. Team typically complete 6,000 meter races in under six minutes, but times may vary due to weather conditions and the flow of the currents.
After graduating from Columbia, Beckett said he may give up rowing completely to concentrate on his career or perhaps seek a coach position.
He said the Camp Randall Rowing Club was responsible for providing him with all the experiences and opportunities that are on the horizon.
“Without Camp Randall, I would’ve never been able to come out here to school.” Beckett said. “I credit the club with making my success possible the last three years.”