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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Rowing Team Combines with Other Athletes to Honor Holy Cross’ Grace Rett

By Harry Minium

Members of the Dominion University women's rowing team looked somber but determined Friday morning as they gathered in the ODU Rowing Center at Lakewood Park.

But 24 hours later the place was rocking with music and cheers from those same rowers as Alexa Carlisle, a sophomore from Fairfax, completed the last leg of a 24-hour, 383,000-meter marathon on a rowing machine.

They rowed the equivalent of more than 237 miles to pay homage to Grace Rett, a Holy Cross rower killed Jan. 15 in Florida in a motor vehicle crash during a team trip. Rett celebrated her 20th birthday the day before she was killed.

While ODU's rowers didn't know Rett personally, they knew her reputation as a fierce competitor and role model. When coach Dan Garbutt announced her death at a team meeting, it had major impact on them.

"It definitely affected all of us," said Alexa Williams, a senior from Chesterfield. "Some people took it hard. Some people took it the way they take things like that. Quietly."

The rowers came up with the marathon to honor her. The idea gained momentum when the Student Athletic Advisory Committee got behind the effort.

Rett became a national inspiration for rowers, especially female rowers, in late December when she set the indoor world record by rowing for 383,000 meters in 62 hours and 3 seconds of continuous rowing.

Rett was allowed to sleep for 10 minutes every hour, but according to news reports rarely did.

"Over that 62 hours, she completed nine marathons," Garbutt said. "Rowing is very similar to running. It taxes the body in the same way as running. It is amazing that this young lady sat down on a long weekend and decided to break this record and then did it."

The ODU rowers were joined by members of almost every ODU other team. Football players Hayden Wolff, Josh Bennet and Broughton Hatcher, wrestler Ali Wahab and field hockey players Ashleigh Thomas and Rebecca Birch and so many others lent a hand.

"This is so awesome," said Birch, a senior from England, when she finished her turn. "It's for a good cause and it's brought so many athletes together."

Even the husband-and-wife team of Rick French (associate athletic director of operations) and Kristin Eden (athletic academic advisor) took turns. As an aside, when they were done they went to Norfolk's Holy Trinity Catholic to help feed and provide a place to sleep for 45 homeless people.

Rett was more than a rower. She played cello and sang in the chorus while in high school, where she was an honor student. She was a devout Catholic who did many hours of community service and was active in the campus ministry and weekly Bible study nights for athletes.

She volunteered in admissions at Holy Cross, where she often gave tours of campus to prospective students, and operated live-stream cameras for the sports information department.

The Holy Cross men's rowing team began a Go Fund Me page for pay for medical bills and other expenses for teammates injured in the crash and Rett's family.

In just two weeks, thousands of people and rowing teams from across the country made donations. When the Go Fund Me Page began to distribute money, more than $270,000 had been raised.

Garbutt said that ODU's rowing team wanted to do more than make a donation.

"We want to let her family and everyone at Holy Cross know that we care, that we feel their loss," Garbutt said. "And we're spreading some awareness of how the families were impacted.

"I was rocked by it when I heard, especially considering that it happened in the manner that it did. One of the safest things we do is transport our teams."

Williams said she will never forget the camaraderie athletes from so many sports showed for the rowing team.

"It was a hard time for everyone because we're so close to mid-terms," said Williams, who sat in a corner with her laptop and finished a homework assignment Friday afternoon.

Rowing is more difficult than people think, she said, and some football players looked gassed as they finished their rounds.

"The football players were screaming and cheering on their teammates," she said. "It gave me chills. We all love each other, we all care about each other.

"What happened here was pretty remarkable."

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