Chet Bickhart takes rowing career to the next level

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Senior rower Chet Bickhart competes during a meet. Bickhart was accepted into the Riverside High Performance Group in Boston, a group where select rowers train year-round to represent the United States in international rowing competitions. (Courtesy of Chet Bickhart and Taryn Carroll)

Hard work, determination and dedication as a leader and member of the Lehigh rowing team earned senior Chet Bickhart a spot in the Riverside High Performance Group in Boston. As members of the group, Bickhart and other select rowers from around the country will train year-round to represent the United States in international rowing competitions.

This is another step forward in Bickhart’s quest to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“There are a lot of tremendous athletes out there fighting for very few seats in the boat,” Bickhart said. “If 2020 doesn’t quite work out, perhaps 2024 will yield a different outcome.”

Bickhart wasn’t always an Olympic prospect. Growing up, he said he was the opposite.

“I’m actually quite terrible at land sports,” Bickhart said. “My hand-eye coordination really sucks, which is why I was eventually ‘encouraged’ to stop playing baseball in the eighth grade.”

As a three-season athlete, Bickhart had a gap in the spring. Following in his two older brothers’ footsteps, Bickhart chose to pursue rowing to stay in shape for swimming.

It wasn’t until Bickhart’s junior year of high school that he won his first race and fell in love with the sport.

“It’s tough to describe this sort of feeling to people who don’t row because, well, rowing is so different from every other sport,” he said.

That was only the beginning of Bickhart’s rowing career.

When he first came to Lehigh, Bickhart was an average rower. He said he wasn’t fast enough to consider making a run at the Olympics. Once Bickhart began to take training seriously, however, he quickly made a name for himself in the rowing world.

Bickhart attributes his success and growth to coach Brian Conley.

“Coach Conley has played an integral part in inspiring me to pursue rowing outside of college,” Bickhart said. “After hearing about all of his successes and endeavors in pursuit of the Olympics, I knew that I had a strong coach in my corner who knows what it will take to get me there.”

Conley said when Bickhart had an epiphany while rowing and training during the summer, he began to grow as a student-athlete.

“He saw what training at that level would be like,” Conley said, “and I’m a believer that if you put in the time and work 100 percent, you can race at the Olympic level. He seems willing, and I’d be excited for him to take on that challenge after graduation.”

Senior rower Sabrina Bordash praised her teammate’s character and growth that led him to this point.

“(Bickhart) has grown as a role model in many ways during his time at Lehigh, which has allowed him to become a better teammate, student and leader,” Bordash said. “I think everyone on the team, in one way or another — regardless of age or position — admires (Bickhart) and his qualities as a hardworking athlete, caring leader and diligent student.”

At the conclusion of the spring semester, Bickhart will head to Boston to train with the Riverside High Performance Group and pursue a campus ministry position at Boston University.

“This will probably entail training twice a day, every day, on top of the ministry work going on at BU,” Bickhart said.

Though his schedule will be rigorous, Bickhart said he is both ready to embrace the challenge and excited to take the next step in accomplishing his dreams.

“Will it be a full schedule? Absolutely,” Bickhart said. “Will it be wonderful? You know it. There isn’t anything quite as good as a little God in the morning with some rowing sprinkled on top.”

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