UHS grad propels rowing prowess to next level

If success is measured by having both oars in the water, a 2015 Unionville High graduate certainly defies conventional wisdom.

Justin Best has excelled as both a sculler and a “sweep rower,” which means that he controls only one oar. The proficiency of the 6-foot-4, 175-pound athlete in sweep rowing recently landed him a spot at the 2015 World Junior Rowing Championship, where he will represent the U.S. in Rio de Janeiro next month.

Best, 17, who will be attending Drexel University in the fall as a member of its crew team, will be competing against the top junior rowers from over 40 countries at the venue hosting the 2016 Olympics.  He was selected through national tryouts spanning nine identification camps (where national team coaches identify potential contenders) from coast to coast that started in January and a selection camp in Pittsburgh this June. The top 16 sweep junior men’s rowers and two coxswains were picked to move onto the world championship.

“I am honored to represent the United States at World’s,” said Best.

Despite the exotic locale, it won’t be a foreign experience: Best represented the U.S. last year at the CanAmMex regatta in Nova Scotia, Canada. He was a member of Team USA, which won gold in the Men’s 8+ (eight rowers plus a coxswain).

His mother, Jeanne Best, said her son didn’t take up rowing until his freshman year in high school, when he became so excited about the sport that he persuaded his older brother, Garren, a sophomore at the time, to join the team. When schedules permit, the two still train together; Garren attends St. Joseph’s University, which recruited him for rowing.

Jeanne Best said she and her husband, Glenn, got their rowing education primarily from Justin since they had no family history with the sport. “Basically, he just keeps setting goals and working hard,” Jeanne Best said. “After his experience last year at CanAmMex, he came back and said, ‘I want to do that again.’”

Although her son sometimes controls both oars, Jeanne Best said when the rowers only use one, they highlight the sport’s teamwork. “You really have to work together to produce the kind of precision” needed to win, she said.

She said Nathan Smith, a 2013 Unionville graduate who rowed for Team USA at the 2012 championships in Bulgaria, served as a great role model. She recalled that Smith’s mother drove her son home one day, and told him: “You can do that, too,” a message that clearly resonated.

In a phone interview from Florida, where he is training with the team, Justin Best credited Smith with pushing him. “He set the bar where it was, and I just kept pushing,” he said, adding that Smith was one of the first people to congratulate him when he made the national team and that the two keep in touch.

Describing his current four-hour-plus daily training regimen as intense, Best said he and his teammates need to nap for a couple of hours in between the morning and afternoon sessions to recover, but the results have been gratifying.

“The team camaraderie is absolutely great,” he said, adding that the coaches have commented on how remarkably well the group has gelled.

 Best said he’s optimistic about the team’s chances when it races on Aug. 7-9. “So far, we’re putting up numbers that are competitive” with the perennial powerhouse teams from Germany, Italy, and Great Britain, he said. “I’m feeling pretty confident.”

He said he’s also looking forward to participating on Drexel’s team, where he plans to continue to get faster and stronger, and he has some advice for up-and-coming rowers: “Miles make champions.

“What I mean by that is you have to log lots of miles. It might be long and grueling, but you’re going to keep getting better, technically and physically,” he said. “It’s not going to happen without doing that.”

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