Bram Schwarz is from Harlem, Netherlands. He comes from a family of Olympic rowers.
As first impressions go, this one sank.
“I came in in January, instead of the normal September, and it was really cold and really high wakes on Lake Union and we managed to sink an eight,” said Bram Schwarz, the stroke oar on the UW’s varsity eight boat. “It was not a good first practice.”
32nd Windermere Cup
What: Annual spring rowing event in conjunction with the Seattle Yacht Club’s opening-day parade to mark the start of the boating season.
When: Saturday, with races beginning at 10:20 a.m. College races begin at 10:58. The final event, the women’s varsity eight, starts at 11:45.
Where: Montlake Cut.
More information: WindermereCup.com.
Things quickly got much better last year for Schwarz, who came here from Harlem, Netherlands, amid high expectations after he was part of a junior world-champion eight for his country in 2015.
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After Washington lost last year to Cal in their annual dual race, coach Michael Callahan moved Schwarz into the stroke oar position (the rower nearest the stern), and the team took off, winning the Windermere Cup and the Pac-12 championships and losing to Yale in a photo finish at the national championships.
Schwarz and the rest of the Huskies will be in action Saturday in this year’s Windermere Cup, the biggest home event of the season.
The top-ranked Washington men will be facing the reigning college champions from Great Britain (Oxford Brookes University) and Canada (University of British Columbia). The top-ranked UW women will be facing the national team from the Netherlands.
That the men’s team started winning last season after Schwarz moved into the boat was not a coincidence, according to Callahan. He said Schwarz is like a quarterback on the boat because people listen to him.
“He isn’t the biggest guy on the team (6 feet 3), but he had a racing mindset and his skill level is very high,” the coach said. “As the stroke oar (on the varsity eight), he helped the chemistry and helped everyone find their rhythm. And he also has that X-factor.”
If Schwarz seems naturally gifted in rowing, there is a reason. His father rowed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, his uncle was in the 1988 Olympics and his grandfather was also an accomplished rower. Still, Bram was not pushed into the sport and did not start until he was 10.
“I tried a lot of different sports when I was younger, but I was never really very good in them. I was midrange,” he said.
So, he gave rowing a try and he was good at it, so he stuck with it.
“I don’t want to say it was love at first sight,” Schwarz said of his relationship with rowing. “It just clicked.”
Soon, he was among the best junior rowers in the Netherlands and competing on the world stage.
It was at the junior world championships in 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Huskies noticed Schwarz. Eventually, Callahan made the trek to the Netherlands to meet with Schwarz and his family.
It was an easy sell.
Schwarz had planned on rowing for a university in Amsterdam, but then he got an email from UW recruiting coordinator Matt Rung in May 2016.
“I knew they had won five straight national championships, and I had read the ‘Boys in the Boat,’ ” Schwarz said.
So when Washington wanted him, he was in.
He wasn’t without friends. Michiel Mantiel, who rowed with Schwarz in the Netherlands, had come to UW a year earlier. Simon van Dorp, who also was Schwarz’s teammate in the Netherlands, was also a freshman with the Huskies last year, and the three countrymen were on the varsity-eight boat that just missed a national title last year.
Last summer, the three helped the Netherlands win a gold medal in the eight at the U-23 World Championships.
The pipeline from the Netherlands to UW has continued with freshman Gert-Jan van Doorn.
“We’ve gone from zero to four from the Netherlands, and they have all been hugely impactful to our program, both on and off the water,” Callahan said.
Schwarz, who dreams of competing in the Olympics, said coming to UW was a great decision.
“Rowing is much bigger here, and there is more attention in the community,” he said. “People look up to you for being an athlete here, and we don’t have that back home.”
And after coming .069 seconds from winning a national title last year, Schwarz said the team is on a mission.
“We want to finish it off,” he said. “Last year was good, but it could have been great. It feels like (a title) was stolen from us last year, and we want to get it back.”
• Schwarz has seen the Dutch national team in action and says they’ll give UW a tough battle. “They are strong women,” he said. “I know they’re pretty good, and their coach is famous for building fast boats. So for (the UW women), it’s going to be a tough one.”