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The News Page: Dad Vail Tragedy

By Brian Conley _______________________________________________________________
Dear Parents and Team,

This past weekend, while Lower Merion was enjoying the success of our team at the Upper Merion Regatta, there was a tragedy that rocked the foundation of the rowing community. As I am sure everyone has heard or has read about the Dad Vail Regatta, where an athlete died following the end of his race. Boston College Lightweight Men's Eight suffered an enormous loss despite winning the coveted Dad Vail Championship on Saturday afternoon. The crew had crossed the finish line in first winning the gold medal. The crew had one of their members collapse immediately afterwards in the boat. One of the teammates realized something was wrong and hailed an official, who was coming over to check on the crew anyway. They immediately pulled the athlete from the boat noticing he was not breathing. After paramedics tried to revive him at the finish line they took him to the hospital where he later died of what is being considered a heart attack.

The reason that I am writing is because this is something that the parents and team need to be aware of. Your children are safe in rowing. This is the first time in the 67 years of the Dad vail Regatta that this has occurred. It is the only time that I or any of our fellow coaches have heard of anything like this. From what I have gathered in the talking with different people who are close to the situation, this seems to have been from one of two possibilities. The first is that the athlete, Scott Laio, had a previous heart condition and was rowing with it. The second is that this could be a random incident much like we have heard of from other sports where without any prior problems an athlete suddenly develops a serious health issue. Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics, who was known to be of extremely good health collapsed back in the mid 1990's without any prior warning. I want you and the athletes who are on the team to know that they are safe and this is why the school makes the PIP form so important because it allows the coaches to know of any prior problems and be able to deal with them at a moment's notice.

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This is a tragedy that no one could have possibly predicted and has raised concerns among parents across the nation and on our own team. Rowing is known to be one of the better sports an athlete can do for several reasons. It is a low impact sport (not physically harsh on the bones and body like football). It is an aerobic/cardiovascular sport which builds stamina, strength and overall fitness of the entire body (legs, arms, back, lungs and your heart). It also builds the mind. Psychologically an athlete has to work with others no matter what in order to achieve success and also improve themselves individually for the greater good of the whole. There have been several allegations that since he was a lightweight rower that he had to lose an enormous amount of weight and that is what caused him to collapse. This has been ruled out by several doctors already. This athletes natural body weight was 166 lbs and he had been training at his race weight of 160 lbs for several weeks without incident. Also he had eaten a large meal earlier in the day and had been snacking for the rest of the day while hydrating his body. The coaches on the LM team keep a close eye on those athletes that have been training in lightweight boats. On an individual basis we evaluate whether or not it is safe to even lose 1 pound much less any more than that. We also consult with the trainer at school for information as well. For nearly my entire rowing career, I have been a lightweight rower and understand that there are some ways that can be harmful in losing weight and there are healthy ways to diet and lose weight. I have had coaches that have requested that I lose an extra few pounds, but they do understand when an athlete will say they he or she can not do it. After rowing lightweight for 10 years now, I have only had the luxury of having coaches that do understand that and so my understanding goes along those lines. I will never ask an athlete to lose weight if he or she feels that they can't. In reverse I will never ask an athlete to lose weight that I do not think will benefit them or the team. I have asked athletes to put on weight at the same time to help them with either self-image problems or to make them feel healthier.

I offer any parent who has a concern to email me or call me with their concerns as far as having their athlete be a member of the team. My coaching staff and I place the safety of the athletes, your children, ahead of anything else. Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I do apologize for sending this so late, but I did want to have as many facts straight about the incident before sending anything out to you.

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