The feature story below on men's lightweight crew senior captain Jeff Overington, is part of a year-long commitment to highlight Harvard’s captains and other intriguing student-athletes. For more question-and-answer features click here and enjoy the high-caliber student-athletes whom we have come to enjoy.
Men’s lightweight crew captain Jeff Overington is already done with his Harvard academic career, but he has one more hurrah to go before his athletic career is done. After the Crimson took first as a team at the EARC Sprints May 10, Overington and his crewmates earned a spot at the IRA National Championships June 4-6 in Sacramento, Calif., looking to capture the first national title since 2003.
What is your concentration?
Human evolutionary biology.
What did you learn in the classroom that you applied to crew? What did you learning while competing in crew that you used in your studies?
Hard work pays off. In both school and sport, those who appear to be very talented usually got to that point by working hard.
Do you have your career plans set out yet?
I plan to attend medical school at some point, but in the immediate future I am going to train with the Canadian national team in Victoria, B.C. If that goes well, I might spend the next few years rowing, and then start thinking about medical school again.
What did you learn during one of your classes that really surprised you?
Humans are better endurance runners than many other animals. In ultra-distance running races, humans can apparently beat horses, especially if the weather is hot.
Do you have a lot of duties, being the captain of a large squad?
My duties are making sure that the team is moving forward and on track, making sure that the guys are enjoying the process, and setting an example for how to train and race. It is a fairly large squad, but the guys are pretty self-sufficient. So as long as I push everything in the right direction, things go smoothly.
How did you first become involved in crew?
Three of my friends were planning on rowing in ninth grade, and they needed a fourth guy to row a four. I joined in for a workout one day and enjoyed it. We had a great coach and ended up winning all of our races in that first year, and I loved it. I’m still good friends with all of the guys I started out with, and they’re all still involved in rowing in some way, either as athletes or coaches.
How popular is crew up in Canada?
It depends on the area, but it’s generally a lower-profile sport in terms of public popularity, similar to the U.S. It becomes popular during the Olympics as it is one of Canada’s top Olympic sports, so it receives lots of publicity for a few weeks every four years!
What is a good way to train for crew when you can’t be out on the water?
The best way to train for rowing off the water is the Concept 2 rowing ergometer, or “erg” as we call it. It simulates the basic rowing movement, so it trains the right muscles. However, it is difficult to work on technique on the ergs. During the winter, we work on technique in the indoor rowing tanks at the boathouse. Other than erging, we run in the stadium, pedal on the spin bikes, do core strength exercises and lift weights.
How do you think you have improved since you first got to Harvard?
I think I’ve improved in all aspects of rowing. I’m a lot faster now than when I arrived at Harvard in 2005, mainly because my technique and fitness have improved a lot. I’ve been fortunate enough to row for coach Charley Butt the past three years, and he has taught me a great deal about how to go fast. I’ve also learned a lot about how teams work, and how it’s possible to perform at a high level while balancing school work.
An important part of crew is staying in synch with your boating mates. How difficult is that to accomplish, especially if you have competed with them before?
We all row with each other throughout the entire year, so we develop similar technique, and we get used to staying “in synch” with each other.
Describe some of the traditions you have in crew.
We bet shirts in our races, so when you beat another crew, you win their team’s shirts. I revived an old tradition this year with the “Cocoa Beach Mustache Contest” at our training camp in Florida during intercession. I gave myself a two-week head start before announcing the contest, but I still lost.
What are some differences between heavyweight crew and lightweight crew?
The heavyweights are bigger, and a little faster if they’re good. Some people say that lightweight rowing emphasizes technique more, and heavyweight rowing is more physical. This may be true in some cases, but ultimately, if you want to be the best at either level, you have to be very strong and row very well. It’s been great sharing a boathouse with the heavyweights and racing against them in practice, as it helps us raise our game.
What was the worse event you ever rowed in as far as weather is concerned?
The Foot of the Charles in 2008. I think it was below zero degrees and a huge headwind, but it was still a good race and we did well.
What was your most memorable race?
All of the races this year have been very memorable, but I’ll always remember the Harvard-Yale-Princeton race in 2007 (my sophomore year). We had a solid season up to that point, and we thought both of our opponents would be fast, but we weren’t sure what to expect. We raced aggressively, took an early lead, and won by open water – a great feeling.
Is there a certain meal that is good to eat either before or after a race?
Pre-race meal depends on the time of the race. I usually eat a solid meal with some carbs and protein, but not too heavy, and I always stop eating three hours before racing. If it’s an early morning race I usually just have a bagel and peanut butter. After the race, it’s good to have some sugars and protein immediately.
What are some things you do to prepare your boat before a race?
We check that all the nuts and bolts are tight, the slides are clean, the oarlocks aren’t loose, and the hull is clean.
What are some things you enjoy doing away from crew and the classroom?
Hanging out with my friends and roommates, spending time with my girlfriend, relaxing, playing other sports (mostly snowboarding in the winter and cycling in the summer), reading, sleeping and eating good food.
What was a place that you went to visit that you’d like to go back to someday? What place have you not been to that you’d like to see?
I visited New Zealand when I was seven years old, and I’m planning to go back this winter for a few months. I have never been to Australia, and I’d like to visit there sometime soon.
Have you seen any movies, read any books, or anything else that you would or would not recommend to a friend?
I saw the movie “Taken” recently, and that’s a great action movie. I really enjoyed the book “The Pillars of the Earth,” and I would recommend that.
What other sports and/or teams do you enjoy watching or have a rooting interest in?
The heavyweight men’s crew and both of the women’s crew. I don’t really follow any of the other sports teams, but it’s good to hear when they do well!
What has been your proudest accomplishment to date? What are some accomplishments you hope to achieve someday?
My proudest rowing accomplishment was winning the Jope Cup for overall team points at Eastern Sprints this year. We decided from the first day in September that we were going to turn things around in 2009, and every single guy on the team came home from Sprints with a medal this year. That moment seemed a long way off in 2008 when we only had two boats racing in the grand finals. I’m also proud of graduating from Harvard!
Some accomplishments I hope to achieve some day are winning an Olympic gold medal and becoming a doctor and/or coach.