In November 2011, we ran a story about a pair of teen rowers from Episcopal Academy in suburban Philadelphia who gave up a race in order to stick around a rival boat whose rowers had fallen into the water. The two young men stayed until the others were safe and then rowed on to finish the race—in last place.Last month, the Episcopal Academy varsity four was heavily favored to win the Stotesbury Regatta until one of the young oarsmen, Paul Pratt, 18, was killed in a car accident. Few bonds in sports are as tight as those in crew. Rowers depend absolutely on each other and train intensively together for years. Devastated, the boys went on to row in the regatta. Paul’s family watched as the crowd in the grandstands chanted “Pull for Paul”, and his old boat took third place. The judges awarded the boat an extra bronze medal, which the team gave to Paul’s mother; she hung it around her neck. Last weekend, Paul’s boat, inspired by the continuing and extraordinary support of his family, went on to win the national scholastic title in a dramatic upset. The cox uploaded an audio recording of the race to YouTube; if you listen carefully you can hear him urge one of his teammates, Nick, to row harder because it’s his last race. The Nick in question is Nick Mead, WRM’s nephew; Nick Mead and James Konopka were the two boys in the boat who gave up a race to help a rival. Nick was captain of the Episcopal team this year and goes on to college rowing in the fall at the same place his father went to school and was also an oarsman. James was also on the championship boat.I hope friends of this blog will remember Paul’s family in this hard and dark time and be inspired by the character and spirit these remarkable people showed in standing by Paul’s team in their grief. People show their real strength in these hours of unbearable trial. We must all hope that we can achieve even a fraction of the greatness of spirit they have shown.Paul’s older brother sent an email around to friends and family that gives a little insight into the young man we all lost:
Not quite sure I know where to start. My brother Paul died last night in a car accident. He was alone, lost control of my old suburban, hit a tree and when the car rolled he came out of the driver’s window because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and was killed instantly. He was returning home from getting a burger after his crew practice. The Stotesbury Regatta starts today and he and his team were poised to win and they had already won a spot at that national championships next month down in Tennessee. As many of you know Paul was very accident prone and this is accident is not a total surprise, but I really can’t believe it has happened especially to this severity. Paul was this crazy charismatic larger then life figure as some of you may remember. He was getting near perfect grades, was the 5th fastest high school rower in the country and was being courted by all the Ivies. There was actually a sixth letter from Harvard addressed to him on the dining room table when we got home last night. More then those accomplishments though Paul was amazed by the world and the people around him. He was always excited and enthusiastic and just wanted more. More conversation, more friends more experiences most of all.
We understand that despite having accumulated the thickest folder of disciplinary offenses in the history of the school by the ninth grade, Paul found that his love of life and adventure were leading him in a different direction during the last year of his life. He was discovering the joy that comes with accomplishment, the thrill of harnessing your energy and your effort for a greater goal. His early promise was beginning to ripen into something richer and more wonderful, and then, quite suddenly, he was gone.For Nick and his teammates, we feel great sorrow and great pride. In their case, the harsh realities of life broke in on the idyll of youth and sport. They have learned all too soon how even our greatest victories in life are hedged with shadows and pain. What the future holds for them, we cannot guess, but we feel that, having known Paul and lost him, these boys will grow into better, stronger, more thoughtful, and more capable men than they might otherwise have done. None of this makes up for the lost, bright promise of a life cut short, and it cannot fill the hole Paul leaves in the lives he left behind. Still, after death we live on, not only to God, but in the lives we touched on earth. Paul’s legacy in these lives will be a rich one; for many years to come these boys and their teammates will “pull for Paul,” and we wish them Godspeed on their passage through the sometimes rough waters ahead.Episcopal Academy is establishing a fund to purchase a new shell to be named for Paul and to provide scholarship funds to enable more low income kids to attend this remarkable school and participate in this sport. Any VM readers interested in contacting the school to help out can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Gifts, we’ve been told, are tax-deductible.[Top image: The Head of the Charles rowing competition; Bottom Image, clockwise from right: Paul Pratt, James Konopka, Nick Mead, Guillaume Furey, Jimmy Larkin]