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Since Joe Baker ’24 arrived on St. Andrew’s campus last August, he’s quietly become one of the best athletes in the country. This past winter, he broke the school’s 2,000-meter erg record (6:15.2), previously held by Chris Carey ’04, and followed up in late March by beating that mark, pulling a 6:09.9. Of the thousands of high-school rowers in the country, only a handful of them have erged a sub-6:10 2k.
“One of the college recruiters who visited said there are probably only three kids his age who are as fast as him in the country,” says Boys Head Crew Coach Will Porter ’96.
Even more incredible is the little amount of time Baker has spent as a rower. After hurting his shoulder badly pitching his freshman year at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nasvhille, Baker decided to pursue another sport to preserve his arm’s health. His father, who rowed as a novice in a lightweight boat in college, had an erg at home for his personal use, and Baker gravitated toward it. His goal was to play a sport in college, so that summer, while he erged, he researched what it would take to pursue rowing at the next level and settled on the 6:10 mark.
That’s right: Baker, new to the sport, never having actually rowed in a boat, made his goal one of the most difficult benchmarks in the sport to achieve. He hit the water for the first time his sophomore spring and decided he wanted a more focused athletic and academic experience at a boarding school. He transferred to St. Andrew’s, along with his sister, Elli Baker ’25, and worked hard all fall and winter to beat the mark. In less than two years after he found the sport, Baker accomplished his goal.
“I was stoked,” says Baker. “That’s a number I’ve had in mind since I started rowing. I didn’t know much about the sport and that [number] was advertised as something you need to break to pursue rowing in college. It’s been a long-term goal and getting it done is exciting because it means I get to set new goals and move forward.”
That competitive drive and intellectual nature makes rowing the perfect sport for Baker. Before he found the erg, he was way too competitive about board games, especially Monopoly. Now, Baker flushes that competitiveness out on the erg and can have “much more peaceful nights doing puzzles or something.” That appetite for activity and feedback is also found in rowing, especially on the erg.
“There is no subjective aspect to the sport in that regard,” says Baker. “You are on the machine, it tells you how hard you’re pulling, how fast you’re pulling, how long you’re pulling for … there is no other sport in which you have that much of a controlled environment.”
Baker takes every measure to ensure control over the things he can control. He trains twice a day to maximize fitness, waking up at 5:50 to erg or lift, then hitting the water during crew practice. He fuels his body properly, shoveling back three bagels with cream cheese, two bananas and a protein shake at breakfast. When he does erg tests, he selects certain songs to play during his workout and has a coach or friend switch the songs at specific times so he can dial in. He is an avid consumer of the sport, listening to podcasts about training, the recruiting process, what it’s like to win seat races in a college boat.
All of this, in addition to an academically demanding school, is a lot to handle. Baker quickly learned he could not do this alone. During his first week completing two-a-days at St. Andrew’s, he called his dad, unsure if he could keep up the pace. But then he met Will Hagberg ’25 and Ike Lawrence ’23.
“I think that’s been the biggest difference for me,” says Baker. “The first week I was on campus, Hagberg came up to me and asked if I wanted to row with him in the mornings and start training. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I could have done this.”
As for Lawrence, he’s a big reason why Baker is here. A stud rower headed to Dartmouth College next year, Lawrence matches Baker’s competitive fire and love for rowing. In the boat, Lawrence sits five while Baker sits six, and, according to Porter, there was “an immediate connection between the two.” During his junior year, Lawrence came close to Carey’s mark–who, coincidentally, rowed at Dartmouth–missing the school record by four-10ths of a second. In fact, between the two of them, Lawrence and Baker own six of the 10 fastest 2k times in school history.
Porter knows two guys alone don’t move a boat, that his job is to fit the pieces together. Initially, he was worried Baker might get burnt out considering he rows behind the pin–meaning he’s more of a backend rower likely to generate force deep into his stroke–while Lawrence and other members of the boat are front-of-the-pin rowers, generating power early in their stroke. Porter implemented drills that emphasized front-end work like the catch and getting the blades in the water at the same time. Baker was receptive and the transition was “seamless” according to Porter. His coachability stems from his love of being on teams, and his presence has infected the program.
“It’s like the chance to be in a boat with him has made everybody step up,” says Porter. “I have more people on the team now under a 7-minute 2k than at any time in school history. Six people in the 2V are under 7, and three or four people in the 3V are under, 7 too. All these kids are seeing what’s possible. Obviously, Baker is very physically gifted, but it’s no secret how hard he works.”
Porter contends he’ll have to work even harder when he gets to college, a challenge Baker is up for. “He’s really special now,” Porter says. “And I think he knows once he gets to college, he has to make another big jump, which speaks to how competitive recruiting is. Joe is a generational talent for us. He’s becoming the expectation for Division 1 rowing–Ike and Joe are what that looks like.”
“I think now that I’m out on the water with Ike and Hagberg and everyone else, it’s a special connection,” says Baker. “You basically struggle and work, everyday, with all your best friends, doing stuff that absolutely is hard. A lot of the stuff you do in rowing, it’s not the most fun.”
Baker not only has his buddies, but his sister, Elli, rowing alongside him. She decided to join the morning workouts with her brother and Hagberg in late January, and she already has the fastest 2k time on the girls team. Baker is thrilled about her growth, yet he’s more enamored by the time he’s gotten to spend with his sister and friends as a result of their shared passion. For him, the best part of his day is after his morning workout, sitting in the dining hall with Elli and Hagberg, chowing down on bagels with cream cheese and talking about rowing, about anything.
“There is nothing more rewarding,” says Baker.
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