Rowing, not running, draws Wilbur to Goerge Washington

Rowing, not running, draws Wilbur to Goerge Washington

North Smithfield native and La Salle Academy senior Jack Wilbur signed a National Letter of Intent to attend George Washington University and join the Colonials’ men’s rowing team during a virtual signing ceremony last week. In Wilbur’s last meet for the Rams’ indoor track and field team, he took second place in the 1,000 meters at the RIIL Championships in Providence.
N.S. native, La Salle senior will continue his athletic career in Atlantic 10 – with Colonials’ crew team

NORTH SMITHFIELD – After watching a handful of his teammates on the La Salle Academy cross country and track and field program sign National Letters of Intent over the past few years to continue their athletic and academic careers at some of the country’s top Division I universities, Jack Wilbur was able to enjoy his moment in the spotlight last Wednesday, May 13.

During a virtual signing ceremony with some of his classmates, the North Smithfield native made his plans to attend George Washington University official, but don’t expect him to celebrate his signing by buying a brand new pair of Nike Zoom Pegasus.

Instead of continuing his running career in the Atlantic 10 Conference with the Colonials, Wilbur will embark on a new venture in the nation’s capitol and join the school’s rowing team.

Wait, rowing?

“That’s been everyone’s response,” he said with a laugh last Friday afternoon. “They thought I was going for running. No one even really knew that I rowed, but I just picked it up last fall.”

How Wilbur, who took second place in the 1,000 meters at this past winter’s state indoor track and field championship meet, got involved with rowing and received interest from one of the A-10’s top programs is an interesting one, and it may have never happened had he not been rehabbing an injury late last summer.

Determined to return to the Rams’ lineup after missing the previous season with a broken tibia, Wilbur was working out with a friend one afternoon at the MacColl YMCA in Lincoln when he saw him trying out one of the gym’s rowing machines.

“The standardized test for a rowing machine was (2,000 meters),” Wilbur said. “He got a certain time, so I wanted to try it. I jumped on it and I did pretty well.”

That moment seemed to light a spark under Wilbur, because when he got home, he spent that night watching YouTube videos on rowing.

It turns out he got hooked on the sport, and later that week, he joined the Narragansett Boat Club in Providence and learned more about rowing, even getting into the water that fall to see what he could do. He even received a rowing machine for his basement after his father, John, promised to purchase him one if he broke seven minutes in the 2,000 meters on a machine.

Wilbur also began toying with the idea of rowing in college. He started talking to the coaching staff at George Washington near the end of November, and when the Colonials named Eric Gehrke their head coach two months later, Wilbur took a mid-February trip to Washington for an official visit to the campus and its facilities.

“And I really liked it there,” said Wilbur, who is one of nine rowers who will make up the Colonials’ Class of 2024 and plans to study business at GWU. “It’s where I wanted to be.”

As for his cross country season, Wilbur was never able to rejoin the Rams, who went on to win the state and New England championships and place sixth at the Nike national meet. And while it was “really tough” to not be a part of his team’s glory, he knows he’s found something truly special with his new craft.

“Ever since I broke my leg, it just has never been the same,” said Wilbur. “Rowing is something that I am able to do pain-free. I wish I could run in college, but I think (rowing) is a better option for me.”

However, Wilbur still wanted to run, and while his doctor told him that “it was time to pick a new sport” before last cross country season, Wilbur was also advised to forego this past indoor track season while he was pursuing a rowing career.

But Wilbur paid no attention to his doctor. Before heading to school this past winter, he trained at the Boat Club, and once school was done, he worked out with the Rams’ indoor team, focusing on the middle distance events.

As a result, he put together an outstanding indoor season that saw him not only claim the 600 at the previous weekend’s Class A championship meet, but also enjoy a fabulous performance at the state meet that saw him turn in a time of 2:35.21 in the 1,000 and also help the Rams’ 4x400 relay team place second.

On March 1, Wilbur skipped that weekend’s New England indoor track and field championship meet to compete at the U.S. Rowing’s C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championships at Boston University’s Track & Tennis Center. Competing in the day’s final event – the Under-23 division’s 2,000-meter race – in a field that was mostly comprised of experienced 20-somethings, Wilbur turned in a time of 6:34.8 that was good for eighth place out of 21 rowers.

Meanwhile, Wilbur’s indoor track season wasn’t over yet. He was scheduled to join some of his La Salle teammates at the New Balance Nationals at The Armory in New York, competing in the distance medley and shuttle medley relay events. But less than 48 hours before the three-day meet was scheduled to begin, the COVID-19 pandemic began to wipe out sporting events and seasons throughout the country, including the nationals.

Wilbur, who last competed in a national meet in 2015, the USATF Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. with the Sentinel Striders’ youth running club, had also helped the Striders’ ages 11-12 team win a national title in the 2013 championship meet in San Antonio, Texas.

That was just one of the highlights of Wilbur’s athletic career before he stepped foot onto La Salle’s campus. When Wilbur attended North Smithfield Middle School, he was a three-sport athlete, who not only ran for the NSMS cross country team – he won the Northern Division title in 2015 – and the Striders, but also competed in lacrosse for Next Level Lacrosse and played hockey, taking the ice with the Providence Capitals and Rhode Island Saints and Hitmen organizations.

But when he enrolled at La Salle, “I thought running gave me the best opportunity to go somewhere with it,” said Wilbur, whose sister, Sheridan, also ran for the Rams and continued her career at Duke University. “I really liked hockey and lacrosse, but I decided to give both those up for running. Now it’s my senior year, and I’m giving up running for rowing.”

Wilbur, who grew eight inches in high school and now stands at 6-foot-4, had his share of highlights with the Rams, with the biggest coming his sophomore year, when he earned First-Team All-State honors in cross country by placing fourth at the state meet at Ponaganset High’s 3.1-mile course in a time of 16:09.35.

But he also had his battles with the injury bug, which began when he broke his foot on a training run near the end of his sophomore year, and because of his history with injuries, Wilbur didn’t receive a lot of attention from collegiate coaches. He “talked to Boston University a little bit,” looked at some schools in this state, and drew interest from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., but in the end, he found the perfect fit with GWU and probably the perfect match (with his build and his athletic background) in rowing.

These days, Wilbur is still hitting the roads for some runs, “and I’m throwing in a little biking as well,” he said. “I’m just trying to mix it up because it kind of gets boring going down to the basement everyday and just rowing for over an hour. I want to get out in the water, but with this whole coronavirus thing, it’s been tough.”

North Smithfield native and La Salle Academy senior Jack Wilbur competed at the U.S. Rowing’s C.R.A.S.H.-B. Sprints World Indoor Rowing Championships at Boston University and placed eighth out of 21 rowers in the Under-23 division’s 2,000-meter race in a time of 6:34.8. He will continue his rowing career in the fall at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.