Putting Austin Rowing on the Map

An Olympic hopeful (and UK transplant) plans to start a youth rowing training program in town



photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

It’s 6:30 a.m. and I’m strapping my feet into the shoes of a razor-thin boat, tightening the oarlocks, and setting my phone to give me digital readouts of the arduous session ahead. On either side of me, my teammates are silently preparing. We are all focused on outperforming one  another. The moon reflects off the dark, glass-like surface of the water. As my coach shouts out the session rundown and technical cues, we make our way out onto Lady Bird Lake. 

“Train hard, to be hard, to be beat.” 

It’s a quote I repeat in my head on a daily basis in my journey toward becoming an Olympic athlete. I have a 2020 Olympic vision, and Austin is the town I’m going to represent on my journey toward being the best at what I do. My sport? Rowing. 

When it came time for the national selection race for the 2012 Olympics, I missed out on selection because my rowing time over 200 meters was 4 seconds slower than required. To this day, I have not let those 4 seconds stop me from achieving my dream. 

My coach at the time, a canoeing Olympic finalist, suggested turning my focus onto club rowing by starting with a 2000 meter (2K) ergometer row—a standard rowing assessment distance. I had never even sat on an erg machine, but managed to complete the row in 6 minutes 14 seconds, ranking me in the top 15 percent in the country and automatically earning me an invitation to train at one of the most prestigious, high-performing rowing clubs in the UK. Within months, I was competing in a variety of boats; sweeping and sculling in London, northern England, and Portugal.

Just after my first rowing season, I decided to take a few days off and venture into the far-away land of America. I immediately fell in love with Austin and its contrast of both city and nature. I had never seen a city embrace the outdoors so well and still manage to maintain a unique, eclectic downtown feel. 

It has been just over a year since I‘ve moved here, and I have continued to train as hard, as frequently, and as determined as ever, putting in hours of training at Austin Rowing Club and completing strength and conditioning programs at DeFranco’s Gym at Onnit Academy. My wife is my wellness coach, offering me nutritional advice and Paleo goodies—including bone broth—from her company, Michelle’s Paleo. Our family and friends have been amazingly supportive of my athletic commitments.

Because of how welcoming and encouraging the coaches, club owners, and athletes have been to me since moving here, I want to give back. I see great potential for Austin to be home to the best athletes in the U.S. (and the world) and have started putting my personal training and strength coaching background to use at area sports clubs and gyms in Austin. 

My goal: To start a development program in Austin, much like the one I went through in the UK.

I was first introduced to a development program in Surrey, England, when I was 16 years old. I stood over 6 feet tall, which automatically allowed me to test for the 2012 Olympic Talent Identification Program (TID) for Flat-Water Sprint Canoeing. The first I heard about the TID was when my name showed up on a classroom board, and I was asked to skip class and go to the school gymnasium. It seemed like a fair deal to me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only tall teenager in town. Little did I know, I was about to compete against 2,000 other athletes my height (or taller) in a series of lung-burning physiological and stimulating psychological assessments. After two gruelling months, they whittled us down to four students. I was one of them.

Soon I was thrown into a 12-session-a week training program consisting of swimming, off-road and on-road running, strength and conditioning, boxing and, of course, canoeing. I should add, as a previously obese 15-year-old, the regimen was a shock to my system. 

My life was also a balancing act. I was attending school, starting a career in sales, and was on my way to becoming a personal trainer and fitness consultant. However, my commitment to canoeing over the next four years was well worth it. Not only did I represent Great Britain internationally, but I won several competitions across Europe in my sport—an overwhelming reward for the hours of training I had logged.

At off-season competitions last winter, I placed in the top three of quickest indoor rowers in Texas. In April, I competed in the men’s state finals at the Texas Rowing Championships and managed to place in the top 10 fastest rowers in Texas on the water. 

Both rowing clubs in Austin are home to some of Texas’ best rowers and do an outstanding job of hosting rowing events throughout the year. The response from local clubs and athletes in regards to starting a youth rowing development program has been great so far. Now all I have to do is find the sponsorship to fund coaching. 

As fitness is what attracts a lot of people to Austin, I want to identify the athletes who best fit high-endurance water sports; the athletes who can eventually get Austin on the U.S. and international rowing, canoeing, and kayaking map where it belongs. This city has what it takes in terms of weather conditions, coaches, and facilities. We just need people to give it a shot.

Joe’s Paleo Diet:

Seaman’s wife, Michelle, offers her husband nutritional advice. Since adopting the paleo diet, Seaman has seen enhanced performance and phyiscal fitness.

Joe’s Workout Regimen

A strength coach himself, Seaman can often be found training at local gyms like Onnit Academy.

 

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