A three-sport athlete in South Fork High School’s athletic program, 2009 grad Luke Wilhelm has recently returned from representing the United States as a rower on the world stage at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia.
Wilhelm and his seven teammates placed sixth out of seven teams competing in the eight-man crew event in Russia. "We did well for what we had and we knocked off Norway in the first heat, so we’re happy with that." Home team Russia took the gold medal in the event with Ukraine taking silver and the Netherlands taking bronze.
To qualify for the games a participant need only be enrolled in one unit in any college and be under 28 years of age. Some of the higher ranked teams had stacked their squads with older rowers, a clear advantage in a sport whose athletes peak in their late 20s. Members of the U.S. squad were all under 23 and many of the elite invitees were unavailable for the games due to conflicting commitments.
Wilhelm, who rowed for four years for UC Santa Barbara was one of 24 invitees to try out for the U.S. crew delegation to the games, and his selection to the team has given him a taste of elite competition and whetted his appetite to pursue training for placement on other top U.S. squads.
"Participating in the World University Games puts us on the radar for the World Cup and Olympic teams.
Wilhelm was impressed with the Russian facilities as well as with the European knowledge of and respect for a sport that enjoys only small pockets of popularity in the U.S. "We were treated like VIPs. People asked us to sign autographs." Russia spent $18 billion on the facilities for the games, which housed 10,000 athletes for the two-week event. "It was an amazing experience to hear all the different languages spoken around us. It was like an Olympic Village."
Wilhelm and his teammates did get out explore a little after the competition was over. "They put us in a beautiful bubble, but we went out and looked around. The city center was full of beautiful art and culture but outside of that there were big block apartment buildings that all looked the same. Flying in we saw a lot of tiny villages in a mostly rural landscape, very different from the city."
He is thinking of switching from the eight-man boat to "sculling" in a four-man boat, in which he’ll be handling two oars instead of one. "I’ve been told I have a better body type for that," he said. If Wilhelm, who has already made an impressive mark as a college, and now an international competitor, in the eight-man boat, finds an even better niche for his talent there is no telling how far he will go.
Wilhelm would not have been able to participate in the games without a lot of support. "I want to give a huge shout out to Dave and Michelle Bushnell and to Jack and Sandy Harrison for helping me out. I’d like to thank my parents, too, and everyone who helped make this possible. It doesn’t matter where you come from, but I am very lucky to come from such a special community."
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUKE WILHELM
South Fork High School grad, Luke Wilhelm, third from left, and the U.S. rowing team, proudly represented their country in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia.