Nereid Boat Club
By Jennifer Ersalesi
There is a community of athletes in Rutherford that spend a lot of their time at the Nereid Boat Club and on the Passaic River, as well as other rivers locally, regionally, and nationally. Over the last two years, the Nereid Boat Club Crew teams have grown significantly. In the last two years, the Junior Team has doubled in size. As a club, Nereid focuses on hard work, toughness, and accountability. We think that is what is helping drive our success, and the kids have really responded to it. The new Director and Head Coach, Zach Spitzer, took over the club at the height of COVID. He explained, “I noticed the kids were totally disconnected from one another. They couldn’t make eye contact, they had trouble speaking up for themselves, and overall lacked confidence. We have seen a noticeable change in our athletes as they continue with the program. They become self-motivated, they learn to communicate with each other, hold each other to high standards, and most importantly become much more confident. They walk taller and they look you in the eyes when they speak. These may sound like small things, but the transformation from one year to the next has been great to watch.” This is Rutherford spoke with Zach Spitzer, as well as some of the athletes in his program to learn more about Nereid Boat Club, their past successes, and their future goals.
TIR: How long have you been with the Nereid Boat Club?
Zach Spitzer: I took over the role of Head Coach/Director in August of 2020, so right in the middle of COVID.
TIR: What is your role within the organization?
ZS: I am the Head Coach of both the Varsity Boys and Varsity Girls and the Director, so I handle the setup and organization of all programs, fundraising, marketing, etc.
TIR: Who do you currently coach?
ZS: I coach mainly the older high school athletes currently, but I have coached all of our groups ranging from 6th grade to Adult groups.
TIR: How do your athletes train for regattas and championships? What is their practice schedule like and what does it entail?
ZS: So we have our racing team, which consists of our Novice and Varsity athletes. Novice athletes are in their first year of racing, so in the Fall they practice Monday-Friday 3:45 pm-6 pm, while our Varsity athletes practice Monday-Friday 3:45-6 pm and additionally on Saturday from 10-1 pm. In the Spring the Novices add in their own Saturday practice. So 5 to 6 days of training a week for over two hours a day.
We really focus our training on getting our athletes physically fit, and mentally tough through confidence. The workouts can range from 70 minutes of cardio to yoga, to lifting, to high-intensity training, to race pieces, etc. The main goal of our training outside of the literal workouts for our athletes is tracking and seeing their improvement over time. We repeat workouts so athletes can see very clearly that they are getting better. Once they see that they are improving, they start to build confidence, with confidence comes better training, and with better training comes more improvement, so it all feeds into the system.
TIR: You are the number one team in Northern NJ and the third overall in the entire region. Tell us more about how your team reached those amazing rankings.
ZS: So that ranking is based on our Regional Championship mid-May. As a team, we won enough races and earned enough high finishes across a number of different categories to end up 3rd out of 46 teams on total points. We were the highest finishing team in all of Northern New Jersey based on those rankings.
Before we went to that race, and the way we train the athletes, we talked about how everyone can have an impact. No matter the boat, a Varsity event, or a Novice event, it doesn’t matter, everyone can contribute, and needs to contribute to the overall team success in whatever boat and category they are in. Every athlete really took that to heart and worked within their respective boats to get the best finish they could. The focus on how to compete as a team rather than as individuals is a major focus of ours. Anyone can have one or two fast athletes and put one competitive boat out. Our goal is to put out as many competitive boats as possible and be able to compete with anyone in any category, and we need a team that is all pushing towards the same high standards to do that.
TIR: On June 9th, some of your athletes competed in the US Rowing Nationals in Sarasota, Florida. How did they qualify and how did the rowers do at the competition?
ZS: In order to get invited to the National Championship in Sarasota, the boat needed to finish in the Top 4 in their category. Our Under 17 boats, both boys and girls, won their respective categories, while the Under 19 Boys got second, and the Under 19 Girls got third in their categories. We compete in the Mid-Atlantic region. It ranges from Washington D.C to Southern New York and includes Pennsylvania as well.
2nd in the Nation, Under 17 Boy's Quad
Cameron Gennardo(Tenafly) Tanay Nandan(Millburn) Vincent Ferullo (Weehawken) Kemal Cengiz(Rutherford)
3rd in the Nation, Under 17 Women's Quad Kate Rudolph(Hawthorne) Ella Gill(Rutherford) Violet Lombardo(Montclair) Ella Woroniecki(Montclair)
9th in the Nation, Men's Youth Quad
Kurt Rudolph(Hawthorne) James Brockmeyer (Annandale) James Yarussi (Basking Ridge) Max Iwanski(Tenafly)
14th in the Nation, Women's Youth Quad Romy McCarthy(Rutherford) Ella Bogue(Chatham) Bria Ragauckas(Rutherford) Mikaela Voinov(Wayne)
They just returned from Sarasota, Florida where they competed against other teams that qualified in their respective regions across the country. It's great to be able to race teams from the other side of the country that we would never get to see otherwise.
TIR: You take a lot of pride in teaching your athletes to be “their best selves”. Can you think of a specific success story?
ZS: Rowing is the best sport to test someone's character and drive in my opinion. You truly get out what you put in, and there is no faking it. Either you are driving towards a goal and improving, or you’re not. It is very objective because it is a racing sport. Are you getting faster? is always the question.
Because it is so objective, it really pushes the kids to be honest about what they want out of themselves, and what they want out of the sport. Anyone can walk in and say “I want to be a great rower, and I want to row in college.” Then it comes down to are you willing, and able, to put the work in for that goal? Or do you give up when it is harder than you think?
One example is a Rutherford resident, Bria Ragauckas. When I arrived at Nereid, Bria was a sophomore that had already been rowing. It was clear I was going to be running the team differently than the previous coach, and at first, it was a struggle for Bria. The athletes at that point had very few goals and were kind of just doing the sport as an after-school hobby, rather than really committing themselves. As the year went on, Bria started to train a little harder, starting to set some goals and hit some, but not all of them. With our practice schedule and workouts, it is easy for athletes to improve their fitness to a certain level. She ended up in an Under 17 Quad Spring 2021that finished 5th in the country at USrowing Youth National Championships, a great result for where that crew was athletically at the time. After that race, Bria started to be a little more focused, started pushing a little harder, and was in the Under 17 Quad that finished 2nd at Summer Nationals. So clearly there was something starting to bubble under the surface for Bria. She was finding success by getting more fit, and that was building confidence for her on the water. Up to this point, she had not declared what she wanted, but through the training, she was becoming tougher and more goal-oriented.
Flash forward to the Fall, we have individual meetings with all of our athletes, and it finally clicked for her, she declared that she wanted to row in college and that she was going to do the work to get there. We told her the times she needs to go for that, and she has been working her tail off ever since to hit them. She earned the most improved award this Spring because of her decision and the effect it had on her approach to practice, and the drive she was putting into her work.
In this long-winded story, the main takeaway is, that we communicate and help our athletes set goals for themselves and the team so they become invested in themselves and their teammates. We have them decide what they want, and most importantly say it out loud! Once an athlete decides what they want out of the sport, whether it is just to become more fit, to add to the team, to improve their confidence, to row at the highest level, etc. we will push them and hold them to their decision. In most cases, once the athlete decides what they want, the ship steers itself!
TIR: What is coming up this summer for Nereid?
ZS: We are hosting summer camps for five weeks throughout the summer! No experience is necessary, all athletes grades 6-12 are welcome in the camps. They can sign up for one or all five weeks of the camp. Registration is through our website www.nereidbc.org
TIR: You’ve been very successful this season. Why do you think you have been so successful and received such amazing rankings both regionally and nationally?
JP Sprayberry (age 14): During this season, Nereid has been working extremely hard to be the best team in the northeast, with practices every day from 3:45-6. I believe that the hard work, team spirit, and bond that we have with each other. Also, the amount our coaches push us, in the boat and out of it, is what really makes us win all those races.
Elliott Bullis (age 14): I believe that we have been so successful and are well ranked both regionally and nationally because of how hard we train and how passionate we are with our training. Our coaches Jess, Zach, Georgia, and Ryan, push us and test our limits to see what we are capable of. From this, we are able to see how hard we can train and what we can do to improve a lot. Nereid does not give up or do things halfway, we strive to be our best selves and the best team. With our determination and will we can do and win many races and accel at practice.
TIR: Tell us about your practices and how you train for regattas.
JPS: In a typical practice, we do many things, but we go through it in order. At 3:45, we do a warmup run to the 7/11 parking lot, and when we come back we do a dynamic warmup. After that, we get the boats down and ready to launch from the dock. When we’re on the water, we do distance pieces, timed pieces, and race pieces. When we’re done with that, we put the boats away and leave the practice.
EB: Our practices are usually on the tougher side, we do have recovery and stretching days, but we are mostly pulling as hard as we can. There are many different pieces we can do to train for regattas/ race day. Not all of it is about pulling hard, a good way to win a race is to make sure you have enough rest and are well-recovered. As someone who races I want my boat to have its mind set on gold, for a race you can’t just be physically ready, you have to be mentally ready. Mentally ready to win, find a new gear, and push to the finish line. At Nereid we push and train ourselves to become the best with no off days except for rest days, I make it our number one priority to get gold, and make sure we have the best athletes on the team.
TIR: What do you enjoy most about being part of the team?
JPS: The part I enjoy most about being part of the team is the bond that we have with each other, and the amount we push each other harder and harder every day. At Nereid, your teammates aren’t just your teammates, they are your best friends who’ll always have your back.
EB: The thing I enjoy most about being a part of Nereid is the fitness and the community. It is so hard to pick just one, I love being able to train myself and see myself transform into a healthy, strong person. Then again being surrounded by like-minded people, we all have the goals and strive to be the best versions of ourselves we can while also having fun. The crew isn’t like boot camp, we are allowed to have fun when time permits, the whole sport is fun in itself, you just have to find fun in pushing yourself to your limits and seeing what you are capable of. That is my fun being surrounded by people I like the most and competing with each other. It’s not the easiest sport but it has a great community, everyone is friendly and the coaches personally care for us. They listen and know what will personally benefit us and the team.
TIR: Can you tell us about a success that you are personally proud of this season so far?
JPS: Personally, I have been in(and won) many regattas this season, including 2nd place at Mid Atlantic’s, 3rd place at cooper cup, and 2nd at a skirmish at overpack park. Nereid has done so many great things for me, and I hope other people get to experience that as well.
EB: Everyone has a different answer to this question, we all have our personal goals that we may or may not have achieved. We all have our own personal goals that we may or may not have achieved. We all have our own personal success, but for me, I became the version of myself that I am confident and proud of. I have always struggled with maintaining a sport because I didn’t like the community or I couldn’t find fun in it. But after being on the team and finding what I was capable of doing and achieving this past year I have physically and mentally changed so much. I became fit and comfortable in my own skin, also my mindset changed completely. I was always saying no to new things and having a mental block. After being exposed to great people, caring and pushing coaches, and surrounding myself with the new friends that I made, I became more open to things. More willing and overall a happier person. I never felt like I had rough friends and was always comparing myself with others. Now I know I don’t have to do that because I have a second family that will help me with anything and always have my back no matter if our blades are in or not.
We always push each other to do our best. Even though we may not be number one, if we pulled our hardest and know that we did our best everyone will be happy. Even though it does feel good to bite on the gold medal. The amount of good memories I have from this is wonderful and I think I smiled more in the past month than I did all of 2019, which was the year before I started rowing.