Hayes Takes Unconventional Path to Rowing Success

Hey Hayes
Freshman Sean Hayes represented the United States at the World Junior Rowing Championships last summer, and now he will don crimson for the Head of the Charles Regatta.

For Sean Hayes, crew was never just a sport.

From the first day he picked up a paddle, Hayes developed an intense passion for rowing. The sport has carried the freshman from Portland, Ore., to destinations as far-flung as Rotterdam, Netherlands; from regional competitions to international ones; and from King Low Heywood Thomas School to Harvard College.


Last summer, the Greenwich, Conn., native donned red, white, and blue to represent the United States on the global stage at the World Junior Rowing Championships in Rotterdam.

“The whole experience on the national team taught me so much about myself and self-reliance,” Hayes said. “Being around so many people who had so much experience really made me want to push myself, to prove I could [succeed] on the international level.”


But Hayes’ path to the world stage has been a relatively unconventional one. Unlike many athletic prodigies whose talents are crafted from the time they begin to walk, Hayes started rowing later into his adolescence.

It all began with a lie. In an effort to get him passionate about a sport, Hayes’ parents told him that one of his friends was interested in rowing. The scheme not only got him involved in crew but also ignited a passion.

“When I was a kid, all I really did was play video games. I didn’t really do a lot,” Hayes said. “I didn’t start rowing until fifth grade, and I wasn’t really in good shape. Rowing taught me the value of investing yourself in the things that you’re doing. Over the next few years, both my grades as well as my attitude and approach really changed for the better.”

Rowing was not the freshman’s first step into the world of athletics, however. The rookie initially dabbled in soccer without much interest.

Finding his arms more adept than his feet, Hayes began to achieve success at regional level rowing meets. He took the next step in his sophomore summer when he competed at the Youth National Championship, where he realized for his true potential for the sport.

The following summer, the lightweight rower followed through on his goal of improving on his fifth-place finish the previous year. Hayes posted the fastest time at the Youth National Championships, earning him an invitation to selection camp in Portland, Ore., for the Junior National Team.

“Selection camp was a very eye-opening experience for me—being away from home for so long, and meeting all of these rowers from around the country who were really, really talented.” Hayes said. “ Being around so many people who had so much experience gave me the mindset that I really wanted to push myself.”

That he did. At selection camp, Hayes performed well enough to make a boat. Later that summer, he traveled across the pond to represented the U.S. National team in the Junior Straight 4. For the freshman, competing in the Netherlands for the United States culminated six years of hard work.

One year removed from his trip to Europe, Hayes is still in the water but now sporting the crimson and white of Harvard. As a freshman, Hayes must grapple with not only a new level of competition but also an increased academic load.

The freshman believes that his rowing experience has prepared him for both aspects. Rowing, according to Hayes, has helped him grow—both as a student and as a person—in the eight years since his first stroke.


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