Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Row, row, row your boat

Churchill grad Dave Banks named to U.S. Olympic rowing team

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Dave Banks first went out for the Stanford University men’s crew team in the fall of 2001 on a whim. Some guys in his dorm were trying out and the former three-sport athlete at Churchill High School (2001 graduate) was looking for a new activity to keep himself in shape and his competitive juices flowing. June 27, less than seven years after stepping into a boat for the first time, Banks, 24, was named to the 2008 United States Olympic Rowing Team and will head to Beijing July 25.

This marks Banks’ first appearance on the U.S. National Team roster. He narrowly missed the cut in 2006 and 2007. Banks will compete in the men’s straight four boat in Beijing with Brett Newlin (26 of Wyoming), Guiseppe Lanzone (25 of Annandale) and Paul Teti (31 of Pennsylvania) — they took the bronze medal in the men’s straight four event at the 2008 FISA World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland last month in Banks’ first-ever international competition.

Banks, who received his undergraduate degree in urban studies in 2005 and earned a master’s in construction management at Stanford in 2006, was invited, alongside more than 60 other prospects, to train at the national team’s training center in Princeton, N.J. in 2006.

‘‘Nothing much separates all these guys,” Banks said. ‘‘They just try people in all different boats and try and make the fastest combination. It’s been a long process. You have to take the ups and the downs the same way, don’t get too high and don’t get too low. But to finally make a boat, it’s very gratifying. It’s a great honor to be able to compete in the Olympics. I want to make everyone proud.”

Banks didn’t know a thing about rowing seven years ago. But his lanky 6-foot-2, 192-pound frame is perfect for the sport. Banks made the team as a freshman. He began really studying the sport, putting in the time to learn the proper techniques and tactics. Soon, he’d worked his way up the college ranks — earning All-Pac-10 Conference honors as a senior in 2005.

Rowing is not nearly as simple as it looks, a lot goes into each stroke. It starts with the legs, moves into the back and finishes with the arms. And all the while, everyone in the boat must stay synchronized.

Being an elite-level rower is not about being the strongest. It’s about having a good strength-to-weight ratio. And Banks, a former track and field, cross country and basketball standout at Churchill, has that. That’s what makes him a commodity. He may not have the same experience as some of his teammates who’ve been rowing since childhood, or have been on the national team before, but he sure can carry much more than his own weight.

‘‘Different guys are built differently, some are taller but you have to know where to apply that power and you try to match all that up,” Banks said. ‘‘Sometimes it’ll look good on paper but then you don’t go fast. Other times you’ll put something together and it won’t look like it’ll go fast, but it does.”

Banks, who ultimately would like to get involved in construction and development to positively change communities, has put his life on hold to follow the opportunities rowing has provided. He’s living in New Jersey now, training twice a day to keep his skills sharp for Beijing — he and his boatmates are keen on medaling at the Olympics.

Banks doesn’t know what the future holds. There isn’t much money in rowing; no professional circuit. And his spot on the national team is not guaranteed each year. But he’s eager to continue working after Beijing and competing with national team for a few years and possibly compete at the London Olympics in 2012.

But for now his focus is Beijing, representing his country and earning his first-ever Olympic medal.

‘‘I’m going to try and find a way to balance training and working,” Banks said. ‘‘This is truly an amateur sport. No one is out doing it for the money. It’s a pretty humble sport. Everyone’s out there because we love the sport and we love competing and you hope to win medals, and Olympic medals. That’s the top of the sport. It’s a great honor and I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have made it to this point. I realize that and I just want to make everyone proud. When you’re out there competing for your country, it really hits you.”