August in late July can be a world beater.
McCallie School graduate August Wherry is in Varese, Italy, for today's start of the 2014 World Rowing Under 23 Championships. He and Hobart College teammate Rob McNamara are representing the United States in the men's lightweight pair after winning that 2,000-meter event at the US Rowing world trials by almost 13 seconds.
Heats start today, the semifinals are Friday and the final in their category is Saturday.
"Lago de Varese is breathtakingly beautiful," Wherry wrote in a Sunday blog post. "We are surrounded by mountains smothered with wildlife and villages that can be seen for miles. Behind the mountains sit the huge, beautiful, snow-covered Swiss Alps that honestly appear to be the size of the entire sky."
Wherry also wrote about the "hundreds of local Italian students" who have been working enthusiastically to make things as easy as possible for the competitors -- "from holding on to your personal bag while you're practicing, handing you your oar when launching, holding your shoes, etc." -- and he had high praise also for the hotel staff and the "healthy, homemade meals" they've been served three times daily.
The weather has not been so cooperative, however, with a lot of rain and "very choppy and windy" water, but Wherry said training on Seneca Lake at their campus in Geneva, N.Y., has been very helpful.
The former McCallie boarding student from Buford, Ga., will be a junior for the Hobart Statesmen this year, and McNamara will be a senior and the second-year team captain. Each is 6-foot-2 and in the 165-pound range.
"We both are relatively big lightweights and set a tone that may be intimidating to the field," Wherry told the Times Free Press. "Over the past few weeks, we have been training at a pace that should set us up for the Grand Final and hopefully a podium finish. That being said, the speed of the field is unknown at this time, and at this level every country is fast."
The trails race in mid-June was a little scary, he said, in that four boats were late scratches and the lightweight pair competition was adjusted to "a one-race, winner-take-all scenario" three days after the heats were supposed to start.
"We spent two extra nights playing the waiting game, and personally it made me so nervous," Wherry said, "that Rob wanted to give me a muzzle to keep me from talking about it. But we were able to perform where we needed to."
The distant runner-up boat represented the New York Athletic Club and included a Princeton rower and one from Columbia.
"Almost all of the Ivy League lightweight programs were represented in our race, so it was a great feeling to beat the competition as a non-Ivy team," Wherry said.
He spent his early years in Buford, near Atlanta, but lived and attended school in Costa Rica from the fifth grade until coming as a sophomore to McCallie, where his father graduated in 1983. That's where his rowing career began.
"I hadn't even heard of the sport prior to that," he said, describing the "new McCallie boarder" gathering where he met Peterson Hostetler -- "a McCallie grad (2002) who rowed and was working in admissions." Hostetler told him he should consider rowing, that he "had the right body type (tall, thin and with broad shoulders) and referred to me as "a No. 2 pencil with hair."
Wherry said he was hoping to play tennis for the Blue Tornado "but needed something to do in the fall, so I tried something new and ended up rowing all three years."
Rowing coach Prentice Stabler became a huge influence in his life, Wherry said.
"He, along with my closest classmates, truly shaped me into the man I am today," the U.S. rower said. "The role model he was for the team and the mentoring he gave us, I believe, produced some of the best men to ever come out of McCallie. The school was truly transformational for me and set me up for the success I have today."
Citing specifically self-discipline and the understanding for the need to work hard, Wherry said "the school gave me some of my greatest memories and life skills, and I am honored to be a part of its community.
"I do still feel that Chattanooga is my hometown, as I spend most of my time there when I do come home."
By the end of the week, he'll have more great memories, and Chattanooga just may have a world champion to call its own.
Wherry is the sixth McCallie alumnus to represent the U.S. in international rowing competition, following Warner Bonner in 1992; Andrew Boston, Craig Kilgo and Matt Morrow in 2003; and Julian Bowling in 2005.
Contact Ron Bush at email@example.com or 423-757-6291.