While sheets of ice currently coat many lakes and rivers north of the Mason-Dixon Line, collegiate rowing teams from across the nation are hard at work on the placid waters of Lake Beresford in DeLand. Now in their second decade of playing winter host to a variety of teams, Stetson rowing coaches welcome in schools from all over just so college and club rowers alike can have fresh, unfrozen water to train on.
“The visiting teams that have come here have been doing so for a number of years and we love to host teams of all types,” said second year rowing head coach Mark Wilson. “They like to come here because of our water.”
The water - or more specifically what is not in the water - makes all the difference as Lake Beresford is a fresh water source as opposed to other bodies of blue which contain salt.
“A lot of the teams go all over Florida but since we are on fresh water, that is a big plus,” Wilson explained. “The fresh water that we have versus going someplace like Tampa is a benefit because if teams rowed there three times a day, that’s three extra times they have to wash their equipment. Salt water is not really good on your skin or your equipment,” he added.
Schools like Iowa, Virginia, UMass and Rhode Island made a multi-week trek to DeLand this year to get some mid-winter work accomplished on the water. College teams are were not the only ones making the trip in 2014 as the Canadian National Team was back at Stetson for the fifth time in six years.
“What makes or breaks a great rowing site is having a certain amount of distance,” said Rowing Canada’s Lightweight Men’s Coach Al Morrow. “The size of Lake Beresford and then the option to go into the (St. John’s) river is the most significant thing.”
Coach Morrow also cites Stetson’s location as another key factor in deciding where to take his team in order to prepare for yet another Olympic run as they did in 2008 and 2012.
“The facilities, such as the docks and the launch areas as well as the hosting job by Coach Wilson creates a very safe, friendly environment for us,” Morrow explained. “So that’s why we would choose a Stetson in DeLand over rowing in downtown Miami for example, where you have a lot more traffic and commotion.”
The Canadian team, made up of 10 men and 20 women, spent two weeks at Stetson starting in early January, all in hopes of staying in top Olympic form for their ultimate goal, 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.
“We love coming down to DeLand because it has a beautiful open lake, so we can get all of our pairs across and we can have good training against each other,” 2012 Olympic silver medalist Natalie Mastracci. “You can go down the rivers and canals forever, so you only have to make one turn, meaning we can get a lot of kilometers in.”
It is not the water alone though that makes Mastracci and her teammates happy to call Stetson home for two weeks during the winter.
“As for the facilities here, every year we come back they get cleaner and better, so I just really appreciate being able to come down here and I think it’s the perfect venue for our team at this time,” she added.
“When the teams come here they are spending more time rowing and that’s what they come to Florida for,” Wilson said. “So there are a lot of benefits for a team to come to DeLand, that’s why we are trying to make our site more accommodating by packaging meals and boat rentals so they’ll have it all here.”
Sunshine and warm temperatures aside, Wilson hopes Stetson’s amenities and DeLand’s location continue to attract rowing teams from across the nation and world in the years to come.