Chapel Talk: Cam Bentley

For most of my junior year, I thought I wanted to give a Chapel about what to do with my remains should I pass away. In case you were curious, it involves a biodegradable burial pod, a tree dedication in my memory, and a simple, non-religious ceremony. However, after much thought, I realized that there was no powerful lesson or message in a death plan. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to talk about passion and its importance to my personal growth. I hope my story inspires you to find passion in your own life. 

For most of my youth, I floated: I did well in school, I achieved athletic mediocrity in most pursuits, and I had enough friends to hover above the line of loner status. Like everyone, I had strengths: I wrote fairly well, I played lacrosse for both my school and a club team, and I impressed the parents of my friends, maybe more than I impressed my friends themselves. Regardless, I lacked passion, rigor, and dedication. Yes, I worked hard, but I never pushed myself. I committed time to different activities, but never made doing so my sole focus. Nothing I did contributed to my outlook, understanding, or treatment of others. I was okay with being just good; I never found the thing that made me want to push for more. 

Upon arriving at Blair, I was sure that I would play lacrosse. I liked the sport and I knew I could compete as a competent varsity player. Throughout the fall, after volleyball practices, I would head out to the Bowl and pass with another freshman girl. On days off, I would head to the gym and do some extra cardio and strength training. I was determined to enter the spring season prepared and ready to make a positive impact. 

At the end of the fall season, during one of my extra gym sessions, I was approached by the former women’s rowing coach. She complimented my height, physical strength, and drive to improve, suggesting that these traits would be better used in rowing than lacrosse. I was a bit taken aback. I assured the coach that I was a dedicated lacrosse player set on playing in the spring. Undeterred, she asked me what I was planning on doing in the winter. I wasn’t sure yet, but I assumed I would sign up for weight training. She suggested I join winter crew instead. It would be a great workout and a fun opportunity to be part of a team. I might even fall in love with rowing. 

When the time came, I marched to the field house and registered for winter crew. Although I never intended to like rowing, the grueling workouts, type-A environment, and competitive people were really starting to grow on me. I felt like I had finally found my “thing”. As the winter progressed, I found myself pushing for more, for longer, and enjoying both the pain and pride of improvement. By the end of the winter season, after much encouragement from my friends Ari Cobb ‘20 and Sydney Wolfe ‘20, I was a rowing convert. I canceled my flight reservations to Florida with the lacrosse team and signed up for the crew trip to Tennessee instead. 

Under the coaching of Ms. Litvin, my novice season was both exciting and challenging. Although I showed intense dedication with raw power to match, I lacked technique and finesse. Much to my dismay, I was not a very technical rower. Regardless, I had a lot of fun. Both the varsity and novice teams were awesome. While everyone valued their individuality, they were committed to coming together as a team and putting the success of the boat above themselves. Success as a whole was taken very seriously. Like myself, the other girls were focused, dedicated, and competitive, applying themselves not just to rowing, but to all of their endeavors. I respected my teammates greatly and began to fall in love with the rowing community– a place for highly motivated, intense, quirky, and slightly masochistic people. 

By the end of my freshman year, upon completion of a 2k erg test, I knew rowing was the sport for me. Although in the past I had worked hard in my various pursuits, I was never particularly good at anything. Rowing gave me the opportunity to feel the benefits of natural talent and, as I would soon learn, the value of passionate application. 

The spring season of my sophomore year was a blast. I looked forward to every practice and anxiously awaited the weekend when we would be able to put all of our hard work to the test during our races. Although we might not have been as powerful as other crews, we had a great boat dynamic and an intense enthusiasm that propelled us to some really amazing finishes during the season.

My summer rowing experience that year was brutal. After attending a try out during the school year, I was invited to train with the US Rowing High Performance Team. Little did I know how tough it would be. Arriving at Connecticut College to begin my High Performance journey was ridiculously daunting. Everyone was taller, stronger, faster, and more experienced than I. Practices were like nothing I had experienced before. It was exhausting; I had never been so physically and emotionally drained. At the end of the High Performance Camp, we competed at Club Nationals. Medaling never felt so good and being done never felt like such a relief. Although the entire experience was super tough, it gave me a taste of high level rowing and widened my knowledge of the rowing world. Through my time with the team, I realized how inspiring the community of high level female rowers was and how significantly they impacted my self-esteem. 

The summer I spent rowing with the High Performance Team opened my eyes to a community that cared more about who I was than what I looked like. Discovering my place in this community allowed me to look past my physical appearance to appreciate my inner and outer strength as both a rower and a woman. I no longer wished to be skinny and shorter than I was; instead, I wished for a few more inches of height and bigger, more powerful muscles. I stopped viewing my body as a simple image and rather I began to see it as a machine, and treat it as such. As a rower, I didn’t need to be pretty or skinny, I just needed to pull hard. There were no expectations for my appearance, only expectations for my effort and my role as a teammate. This change in self image was freeing and allowed me to see worth not in what my body looked like, but in what it could do. 

I entered my junior year more confident in myself than ever before. I felt prepared for the academic course load, the difficulties of college recruiting, and the hard work of another winter season. When spring finally came and we were able to get on the water, everything I thought I knew about technique was thrown out the window. My world was rocked and I struggled to accept the change. In my time of frustration, I remembered some advice from a Junior National Team coach. She told me that my success as an athlete was less about my power and speed, and more about my coachability– my capacity to adapt and be flexible. Taking this advice to heart, I began to let go of my resistance. I dedicated myself to making the changes Mr. Redos implemented, regardless of whether or not I agreed with them. Although I might not have been convinced that our new technique was superior, by the end of the season, I knew for sure that acceptance and flexibility were crucial to my success as both an athlete and a person. I thank Mr. Redos for having patience with me as I learned this lesson.

As I did the previous summer, in June of this year I returned to train with the Junior National Selection Team. With one summer of experience already under my belt, I knew it would be difficult, but I had confidence that I could rise to the occasion. Practices were tough, but I really enjoyed both the opportunity to train with such talented athletes and work with such exceptional coaches. Unlike the previous year, I made the most of every practice, committing myself to being a coachable athlete and a positive teammate. After three different erg tests and my continued positivity on and off the water, I had set myself apart and was looking towards selection for the CanAmMex team. Unfortunately I was never able to compete. During final selections, I developed minor tears in my shoulder and biceps tendons likely due to overuse and stress. I had to drop out of camp. I was totally gutted.

Once home, I spent the rest of the summer working to get better. Although it wasn’t how I intended to spend my time, the experience of being injured and learning about recovery was invaluable to my maturity as an athlete. Not only did I learn about my body and how to take care of it, I learned how to communicate that to others, specifically my coaches. The entire experience was a huge lesson in self-care and maximizing my potential as an athlete. 

Developing a passion for rowing has given me more than just a way to spend my time. Through its ups and downs, rowing has given me an amazing community, an intensity of action, a motivation for hard work, an appreciation for my body, an admiration for the work of others, a capacity to adapt, a knowledge of self-care, and an increased ability to communicate. Most importantly, rowing has given me joy and happiness. In finding my passion, I found something to wake up for every day: a sport which not only made me a better athlete, but a better person. 

I am so grateful for my experience with rowing, and even more grateful that I took the risk to try it three years ago. Had I never challenged myself and taken advantage of the choices given to me, I would have missed out on so many amazing experiences, relationships, and lessons. Don’t miss out on the opportunities presented to you at Blair. Try new things, be adventurous, and challenge yourself. With dedication, interest, and growth, an initial curiosity can become a life-changing endeavor. Regardless of what activity you find– maybe art, religion, athletics, service, or academia– your passion for it will allow you to grow in ways you never thought possible and reap the benefits. 

Thank you and seniors first. 

Cam Bentley 2019 Copyright