By Mason Kelly, GoHuskies.com
Ezra Carlson, ’17, was at Dexter Lake in Eugene, Ore. A junior in high school, he had traveled north from Eureka, Calif. to race with his club team in the Covered Bridge Regatta.
It was at this competition he first found Washington. The Huskies were also at Dexter Lake. They were competing against Oregon State.
“I was blown away by this team that was just on another level,” Carlson said.
Carlson watched as the Huskies rigged their boats. He was impressed by how focused, professional and in sync the team was as it prepared to race.
“They were there to do one thing,” he said.
The longer he lingered around the program, the more he was impressed.
“I want to be a part of that,” he said. “I want to be on that team.”
Two years later, he was back in Eugene, back at that race. This time, though, he was wearing purple and gold as a freshman for the Huskies.
“Wow, I’m part of this team now,” Carlson thought at the time. “I’m part of the group of guys junior rowers – like I was – look at and go, ‘Wow, I want to be a part of that.’”
But, as much as Washington has meant to Carlson, “The Washingtonians” is a series about local athletes. How does a kid from Northern California fit in? Well, while he didn’t grow up in the state, he is a resident, and that’s the story.
After his first year with the Huskies and that return trip to Dexter Lake, Carlson and his family couldn’t continue to pay out-of-state tuition. It left him with two options – find a way to become a Washington resident or head back to California.
In order to gain residency, he would be on his own. He had one year to become a resident. There was no promise it would work.
But, when he weighed the challenge of becoming a resident against losing his chance to compete at Washington, he decided a year away from the program was better than leaving it behind forever.
“There were some really tough moments during the year where I questioned if I should be doing this,” Carlson said.
Looking back now, though, “It was entirely worth it. I have absolutely no regrets.”
During that year, he would get up in the morning and head to Ballard to row by himself. Then he would head to work, either at Agua Verde or a Cash & Carry in SoDo – he also spent time working at the Eureka! restaurant in University Village, the Seattle Rowing Center and worked on the Huskies’ grounds crew.
Then, after working one of his jobs, he would drive to Northgate for night classes – he took one per quarter. Money was tight. He ate a lot of lentil soup, but never lost sight of his goal.
“This is the guy that parked your car or washed your dishes so he could row for UW,” coach Michael Callahan said. “Ezra’s leadership comes from the fact that he is so committed to this program. He’s the glue and is willing to do the dirty work.
“He has embraced the idea of earning his way from the very beginning, on and off the water.”
After a year, Carlson was granted residency. His plan paid off. He returned to the program.
Not only did he return, by the end of the season, he was in the varsity eight, helping the Huskies earn their fifth straight national championship.
“That was a pretty cool experience,” he said. “It was definitely a fast boat, a lot of fun.”
But, when Carlson talks about that title, his description is one shared by each of his teammates. It’s not the personal accomplishment he is concerned with.
“I don’t feel like I won any more of a national championship than the guys in the JV or the 3V, freshman eight,” he said. “That’s part of what makes this team so special. It doesn’t matter what boat I’m in as long as our boats win.
Carlson was introduced to this idea the first time he watched the Huskies.
“Nobody rows for themselves here,” he said.
Watching Washington, he knew he wanted to be a part of the program. He wanted it so much, he was willing to spend a year away to extend his career.
“I would have given just about anything to come back and row here,” he said. “This team means everything to the guys here.”
It means everything to Carlson. He fought to be here. He did whatever was needed to become one of “The Washingtonians.”
By Mason Kelley, GoHuskies.com
Graham Henry knew all about Washington rowing long before he ever joined the program.
His father, Tom, rowed for the Huskies in the 1970s and introduced his son to the sport, taking him to races on the Montlake Cut. In high school, Henry began to follow his father’s athletic footsteps, starting a journey that let him to a collegiate career.
“The cool part about Washington is the tradition,” Henry said. “Having grown up in Seattle, it’s cool to be a part of it.”
Spending his college years at Washington has allowed him to pursue an elite education, while being a part of a program that wins national championships year after year.
“The UW has such an amazing combination of academics and athletics it’s kind of a unique opportunity to be able to compete at such a high level,” Henry said. “It’s a sport that allows you to be successful in academics and athletics.”
A chemical engineering major, Henry joined the program during his second year in school. As he has worked his way up through the program, he has navigated a challenging school schedule with the hopes of landing a job that will allow him to work on “optimization in chemical plants and other types of manufacturing.”
The challenges presented both in school and rowing have pushed him to excel in both.
As he heads into his final collegiate quarter – he graduates this spring – Henry is looking to make his last season with the Huskies his best. He is already a national champion, helping the Men’s Varsity 4+ claim a title at the IRA National Championships last season.
However, while he plans to continue to improve, the measure of ultimate success for Henry isn’t a spot in the Huskies’ top boat.
“The coolest thing about this sport is that at every level people are competing and pushing,” Henry said. “A big part of this team is about the guys in that third, fourth varsity pushing to make the guys at the top better and always striving to make it there themselves.”
It is the “depth and drive” of rowers throughout the program that vaults Washington toward championships each year. By carrying a mentality of pushing the rower in front of him, Henry is intimately connected to the Huskies’ team success.
He is pushing himself to improve, which in turn forces those ahead of him to excel.
“You’re part of it,” he said. “You’re there. You’re racing. You feel just as important. It’s special to know you were a part of this, you were a part of reason this team was so successful.”