Friday, March 11, 2011

RR Interview: Greg Flood, ACRA Winner and Back-to-Back Crash-B Champion

Flood on the podium
If you haven't heard the name Greg Flood yet, you will. Soon. Having started rowing as a college freshman at Notre Dame, Flood began his rowing career with a win in the Novice VIII at the ARCA Championship regatta in 2008, and has since racked up hardware of a different, perhaps more utilitarian kind. This past February, Flood won the Collegiate Lightweight division at Crash-B's for the second time in as many years, taking home the hammer in 6:12.8 -- still the fastest time of any US lightweight so far this season. In the U23 category, he placed second, behind only Steffen Jensen of Denmark. Here, Greg talks with RR about how he got started, what motivates him, and where he hopes to go with the sport he has taken to so quickly.

RR: How did you get started rowing? What was your athletic background prior to college?

GF: I, like many club rowers, took my first strokes when I got to college. However, I had already developed an interest in the sport before starting at Notre Dame thanks to a random waiter at a restaurant. I was eating dinner with my girlfriend her favorite Mexican place when a waiter came up to me and asked if I was a rower. I had no idea what he was talking about and was confused why he was asking me this. I told him no, and he said "I was just curious because of your shirt; you look like you would be a pretty good rower." I looked down at my shirt and realized it said the word 'crew' on it, and then just sort of went on with my meal. I guess the waiter sparked my girlfriend's interest because she went home and looked at the Notre Dame rowing club's website. When I saw her the next day, I think the first thing she said to me was that she really thought I should check the sport out when I got to school, so I did.

Prior to rowing, my athletic focus centered around baseball. I played baseball from a very young age and continued to play the sport through high school. Baseball really taught me a lot about preparation and the connection between the work you put in and your level of success. My freshman year of high school, I didn't make the team and I was completely devastated. So at that point I made the commitment that I would put in more work than anyone else and be on the team next spring. I started lifting weights, working on my swing and doing sprints to get a little faster. By the time the next set of tryouts rolled around, there was no question that I belonged on the team. I think that failure still drives me to this day, especially in rowing. I always feel like I have something to prove.

RR: What advice can you give to club programs looking to recruit athletes like yourself? What kind of atmosphere did the ND coaching staff create that made such an impression on you, and that eventually led to an ACRA Championship?

GF: I would say the most important thing when it comes to recruiting talent at the club level is just to create an atmosphere of competition. Here at ND, you get a lot of guys coming from other sports in high school who want competition and aren't satisfied with intramurals. My novice coach, Justin Price, did a great job of showing how high a level of competition collegiate rowing can be. Right from the start, all the guys in my novice class felt like there was a lot at stake; like we weren't just playing around but actually competing for our University. This feeling made everyone really commit to the sport and being able to draw that type of commitment from college freshmen was what made our novice boat so successful that year. He really lit a fire in all of us. I think Coach Price has been the person who has made the biggest impact on me as far as rowing goes and I think most of the guys whom he has coached would probably say the same.

RR: In the final race of your freshman year, you crossed the line first. Ending your season with a win is greatly satisfying, as you alluded to in the interview you recently did with the Observer (Notre Dame & St. Mary's). Not only that, but you did it in exciting fashion, taking the lead in the final 500 meters. How did it feel to accomplish that goal, and how has it shaped your experience of rowing thus far?

GF: Its hard to describe how great it felt to win that race. Winning ACRA was our goal the whole year and was what we worked for every practice. There is no better feeling in the world than to accomplish your goals, especially ones that you set from the very beginning of the season. That race definitely set the standard pretty high for my time here at ND. My goal (and everyone on the team, really) since then has been to match that level of success. It is great when you can come out of a year on top, and just being able to experience that once is enough to make you put in any amount of work to experience it again.

RR: Since stepping up to the Varsity level, you have continued to make great physiological improvements. To achieve your recent win at Crash-Bs in the Collegiate Lightweight category, you improved on your winning time from last year by nearly seven seconds. How have you structured your training plan to make such major leaps?

I really have Coach Price to thank for the effective training plan; he is a man who definitely does not fear the erg. In the fall of 2009 I decided that I wanted to try to hit the concept 2 Crash-B qualifying standards so I could score a free trip to Boston. Prior to that decision, I had just been sort of training at the status quo. I was doing well on test pieces relative to other rowers on the team, but the qualifying standard gave me a definite time to shoot for. So I talked to Coach Price and he wrote up an incredibly detailed training plan for me over winter break. I put in an enormous number of meters that winter break and watched as my splits (along with my weight) dropped from piece to piece. Since that first winter break, I have been extremely consistent with my training. I followed Coach Price's plan again this past winter break and saw even greater improvements. Consistency is key.

RR: At Crash-Bs this year, you managed 4th place overall in the Lightweight Category, behind only the World Record holder Henrik Stephansen, his teammate from Denmark Steffen Jensen, and Hungarian lightweight Tamas Varga. The names that appeared on the screen immediately after yours included Italian Olympian Marcello Miani. How did it feel, coming from a relatively small program, to be competing on the same level as Olympic athletes, and how has this experience further motivated you to train at the elite level?

GF: Honestly, the competition was not something I was thinking about before or during my race. I was just trying to execute my race plan and not pay attention to anything else that was going on. When the race finished and my brain got enough oxygen to process the results, it was pretty shocking to see my name right there with accomplished, elite rowers. Most of the year I am more focused on names like Michigan and Grand Valley State; I don't usually deal with world champions like Miani or world record holders like Stephansen. But it was awesome to get to compete with those guys, many of whom have accomplished things I hope to accomplish in my rowing career. It also motivates me to continue training at an elite level. It proves to me that I have the potential. I have only been rowing about 3 and a half years, and really only training seriously for a year and a half. My 2k time has dropped more over the last year than it has between any two years prior to that. I don't feel like I am in any danger of reaching my maximum potential, I just have to stay consistent and see how high my name can move up that list.

RR: This year, Notre Dame posted a great result at the Head of the Charles, taking 5th in the Collegiate Eights category. How have you been building on the Fall results through Winter training, and what are the goals for the team this Spring?

GF: Our 5th place finish at the head of the Charles proved to our guys that we have some speed and will be competitive come springtime.  We have been putting in solid work all winter break and a lot of guys are making some huge improvements.  Our head Coach Kurt Butler has done a great job with our training plan and keeping everyone focused on the spring season  The goal this season is to win every race and we train with that in mind.  There are a lot of schools that we will be racing with some pretty ridiculous speed, so it should make for an exciting season.

RR: In addition to rowing and training at such a high level, you are currently pursuing a course in chemical engineering. As a club rower, you receive no assistance from the school in terms of academics, and yet you have achieved to a high level in the classroom as well. How do you balance the commitments? Do you find that, during the course of the day, one focus serves as a release from the other?

GF: Balancing rowing with academics is probably the biggest challenge of being a club rower (and probably the biggest challenge of being a varsity rower too). We don't get excused absences if we have to miss class for competition, so being on top of your work is extremely important. It is sad that sometimes I find myself doing homework at regattas, but that is really the only way to get everything done. Its also hard to find time to get good rest and proper sleep with the amount of work I have, but that is mostly my own fault; I definitely could have picked a more "rowing-friendly" major than Chemical Engineering.

Notre Dame training on the water
RR: As one of the Team Captains for the Irish, how has your role changed from your early days on the squad, and what legacy do you hope to leave when you graduate this Spring?

GF: I have definitely become a lot more vocal about things since I have become captain. I have always been the "lead by example" type of guy and I still try to do that. The only difference is that now I feel much more responsible for everyone else. Now I feel like I need to put in the work not just to make myself go faster, but also put in the work to ensure that other guys do the same. That means bringing energy and focus to every single practice, and making everyone feel the responsibility to your teammates that comes with rowing an 8. As far as legacy goes, I hope that is determined by the results this spring. I would rather be remembered as part of a good crew with all my teammates than as an individual. All the seniors in my boat - Michael Maggart, Michael Wagner, and Sean Gibbons- I have known as long as I have known the sport of rowing. I can't imagine rowing without those guys in my boat and they deserve an equal share of whatever legacy we leave behind.

RR: What are your plans for this summer? Will you make the move to Oklahoma City in order to join the US men's lightweight program?

GF: I plan on going to the U23 lightweight 4- selection camp in Oklahoma City. After that, I would like to continue training with the National team in OKC. I am from Tulsa, Oklahoma, so the location is really convenient.

RR: At this point, given your physiological improvement, London should not be ruled out as a possibility, despite the fact that we are only 550 or so days from the Games. Is London in the back of your mind right now? Or are you thinking about Rio as your primary goal in terms of making an Olympic team?

GF: Right now my goal is to keep improving and help Notre Dame win some races this spring. Ultimately I would like to go to the Olympics; preferably sooner rather than later. But that is all in the long term. I know that I have the potential and I am going to continue putting in the work every day so that I can reach it. I said before that I always feel like I have something to prove; this is one of those things.

Thanks very much to Greg for taking the time. 

-RR

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