Champion Oarsman No Longer Just Along for the Ride

Walter Banfield recently won the United States’ lightweight under-23 singles rowing title and competed in the world championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
“When you come off the water your whole body is done,” Walter Banfield says.

Walter Banfield, a member of the Marder family who, while reared in southern Virginia, has spent his summers in Springs, recently won the United States’ lightweight under-23 singles rowing title and competed in the world championships in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

During a conversation at The Star on his return from Rotterdam early last month, after throwing his bags down and running up to Gerard Drive and back, the quiet-spoken 6-foot-2-inch, 155-pound 21-year-old Dartmouth student said he had come to rowing quite by accident.

“It was in my freshman year in high school, and they made you play a sport. I wasn’t at all athletic — absolutely not. The captain of the school’s crew was friends with my sister. He was a brain and an athlete — he’s the one who signed me up for rowing.”

Wake, Va., where he grew up, was, while “in the middle of nowhere . . . near where the Chesapeake Bay and the Rappahannock River meet. I went to a small prep school, Christ Church, 200 total. There were four seniors, two sophomores, and me on the crew team. We lifted, ran, and did ergometer training in the winter — a lot of that — and then in the spring we picked up a couple more people.” 

“My coach was Richard Lawrence. A nice guy. He coached me this summer; he sends me workouts. . . . The seniors took me under their wing. You know, ‘Do this, do that, here’s how it works. . . .’ I was along for the ride the first year, my novice year.”

Then he started winning. As a sophomore Banfield was undefeated in the state, in doubles and singles. He began to compete internationally as a high school junior. He has won three United States trials, twice in a double, once in a single. 

“You have to want it,” he said in answer to a question. “You have to be self-motivated,” and when one rowed with others “you all have to be in sync. It’s a high-teamwork sport — very much so. You all have to be on the same page, doing the exact same thing and at the exact same time, and not care how much it hurts, because it hurts a lot! When you come off the water, your whole body is just done.”

“All the races were 2,000 meters,” he said, “a little over a mile. You’re going flat out. You try to strategize, you try to, but if you mess up it’s all over. . . . You’re always learning. Each boat and each level is very, very different. A double is very different from the single I did this year. Singles is the hardest event to do internationally because so many go.”

In Rotterdam, “I didn’t race as well as I should. . . . The conditions . . . nerves, or something. I’ve rowed better in practice.”

“I was a little disappointed. I finished 18th out of 30 . . . I’ve finished higher. The competition was up this year — there were four or five Olympians in my race, and all the guys who just missed the Olympics showed up.”

As for the Olympics, it was, he said, a possibility for him in 2020. Rowers, he added, usually peaked between the ages of 25 and 30, somewhat like marathoners.

In parting, he said he could see himself rowing the rest of his life, though he didn’t know whether he would always compete.

Asked if he had read “The Boys in the Boat,” Banfield said he hadn’t.

Presumably because he’s too busy living it.