By KEITH McMILLAN
As a middle schooler, Ben Streufert saw how exciting crew could be while watching his older brother Dan row for Woodbridge. Ben even tried the summer program during his eighth grade year.
In the winter before his freshman season with the Vikings, he found himself working out indoors day after day, pulling on an ergometer. It was far more difficult and less glamourous than rowing had seemed during sunny spring days on the Occoquan.
He hated it, but something wouldn’t let him quit.
“My first year, that winter, I had nothing to go on,” said Streufert, now a Woodbridge senior. “I was beating my brains out. But everything I’d done until then, I’d done pretty easily. It was hard, but I thought ‘I’ll stick it out.'”
He was admittedly bummed out, however. One of his best friends, rower Chris Richbourg, made varsity right away. Streufert, then a 5-foot-11, 135-pound youngster, did not.
“I was around when he wasn’t [having] as much fun with it,” said Dan, a second-year student and varsity rower at the University of Virginia. “He was kind of realizing that it’s more work than he anticipated.”
But instead of dropping the sport that was making him try harder than he ever had at anything, Streufert embraced it.
“It would probably be pretty hard to go through life saying ‘I’m not very good at this’ and quitting everything,” Streufert said.
By the 10th grade, Streufert had found a place on the Vikings’ second eight. He soon found himself in the dark, dank bottom floor of the Oxford Boathouse, as one of the last guys on the team to take an ergometer test. Woodbridge coach Tom Moulen stood over Streufert as he was about six minutes into a 2000.
“There was about a minute or so left, and Mr. Moulen was yelling in my ear ‘if you pull a seven minute, I’m putting you on varsity.'”
The way Streufert recalls it, he ended up with a 7:09, but the point was made. As they headed out for practice, Moulen told him to take the seven seat.
“I was like ‘Aw yeah,'” Streufert said. “It just felt so good to work so hard and have instant gratification.”
Now, the 6-4, 170-pounder is in his second spring on what is perennially one of Virginia’s top eights. Streufert can look back and see how far he’s come since his start.
“I was hurt earlier this year, and I couldn’t go out with the varsity eight,” Streufert recalls. On the ergometer, he pulled a 40-minute piece as fast as he did an eight-minute piece as a freshman.
“That made me feel like it was all worth it,” he said.
Last season, Woodbridge’s varsity eight began the spring as a group of fairly inexperienced rowers. The boat came together and finished second at the Virginia Scholastic Rowing Championships.
“It was just something we had,” Streufert recalls. “It was a combination of us being kind of light, rowing so clean and coming together. Some boats you get in and you can really feel the power. Last year, we were so smooth.”
This season has been a rougher ride for the Vikings top boat, which Streufert describes as “powerful,” but Saturday’s state championships could be a site for positive change.
“I’m really pumped for the race,” Streufert said. “I kind of want to see what happens when we row to our potential.”
So far, that’s been tough to do.
“With Chris being out [due to injury], and I had missed a couple of days and a regatta, there’s been a lot of uncertainty on the boat,” Streufert said. “It hasn’t felt like [we’ve been] together.”
Woodbridge’s times and finishes have been below expectation, but that suits Streufert fine.
“It would be a shame to reach your potential in the second race,” he said. “You have nothing left to row for. We’ve learned a lot by losing, a lot more than we would have by winning.”
That’s similar to how Streufert critiques himself.
“Personally, I try to find something I did well, and then some things I need to correct. Some people beat themselves up over losses, but if you just keep being negative, you’re going to have negative results.”
Streufert says that easy-going attitude probably came from growing up alongside Dan, who is occasionally called “Iceman” at Virginia because, as Dan says “It would take a lot to really get me mad.”
The family still lives in the same Springwoods house the brothers grew up in, and Streufert still goes to school with some of the friends who he played football, basketball and other sports around the neighborhood with.
Next year, Ben will join Dan at Virginia, though he strongly considered Duke and also gave thought to applying to Harvard or M.I.T. One of Streufert’s biggest academic accomplishments was scoring 1580 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT.
“I’m pretty proud of that, but the thing is this,” he says. “I’d rather people admire me for something I really worked hard at. [The SAT], I kind of just went in and took it and did my best.”
So he would rather be admired for what he achieved starting that winter during his freshman year?
“Yeah,” he said, not wanting to discount his academic achievement. “I never really thought about it like that.”