Queen of (England's) Thames
Going into her freshman year at Stonington High School, Candice Webb had never rowed competitively and didn't know much about the sport.
That makes what Webb accomplished this season as a senior on the Drexel University women's crew team a different story completely, contributing to a page in Dragons' history.
Drexel's varsity eight won the Elite 8 championship and the Sports Council Cup on June 20 at the prestigious Henley Women's Regatta on England's Thames River. The Dragons were recently honored for that achievement in a celebration attended by Drexel president John Fry and U.S. congressman Patrick Kennedy.
Drexel became just one of four American schools to win the regatta, joining Yale, Brown and Radcliffe.
"I wanted to go somewhere that was far away, but close enough that I could still come home if I needed anything," Webb said of her decision to row at Drexel. "Philadelphia has always been a hub for rowing, so the area's history impacted my decision as well."
So Webb went to Drexel and almost immediately made an impact starting on the varsity squad as a sophomore, then rowing stroke as a junior. The person who rows stroke sits furthest to the stern (back) end of the boat to establish the rhythm and rate at which her teammates row. Along with the coxswain, who steers the boat, the stroke is one of the more important members of the crew.
In her first year rowing stroke, Webb led the Dragons to wins at the Bill Braxton and Frostbite Regattas, the Bergen Cup, and a berth in the grand finals and a fifth place finish at the Dad Vail Regatta, one of the biggest events in U.S. collegiate crew.
This season, as a senior, Webb helped bring Drexel to a second consecutive berth in the grand finals at the Dad Vail Regatta, where the Dragons took third place to claim their first medal since 2005.
After its strong showing at Dad Vails, Drexel was invited to compete in the Henley Women's Regatta, an offshoot of the Henley Royal Regatta, which was founded in 1839. The women's event has been conducted since 1988.
"Universities are only allowed to compete in the Henley once every four years, so it's a very big honor to be invited to it," Webb said. "We really wanted to go in there and impress everyone."
The road to gold at the Henley was not an easy one. In the semifinals, Drexel found itself racing a composite team of England's top rowers under the age of 23.
"They definitely had power and great technique, but they had only rowed together for a week," Webb said. "The fact that we had been rowing together all year, the chemistry that we had together, is what won it for us."
In the finals, Drexel was pitted against a familiar foe, Grand Valley State (Mich.), a school that finished eight seconds behind Drexel at the Dad Vail, and had won the Dad Vail the year before.
"I was pretty confident that we were going to win. We saw them at Dad Vails, and we had seen them in the past enough that I knew that we could beat them," Webb said.
Sure enough, Drexel beat Grand Valley by a boat and a half margin to claim the most prestigious title in Drexel crew history.
"It was extremely bittersweet. A lot of years of rowing, a lot of time and effort and a lot emotional and physical strain, but it was so fun and I was able to have so many amazing experiences that otherwise wouldn't have been possible," Webb said. "After all those years it was great to be a part of something so big and so wonderful."
Webb graduated this spring with a degree in graphic design and hopes to open her own event planning company. In her free time she hopes to help out with Stonington's crew program.
"I'd like to continue to row at the next level, with nationals, worlds and the Olympics, but I also want to help around the area," she said. "There are so many great opportunities on the Mystic River and I really want to help get people in the community more interested in rowing."