Profile: William McKarns helps lead Pioneer crew team with high expectations

Story by Terry Jacoby

Rowing photos by Robert Raux

When William McKarns takes his seat in the boat for the Pioneer Rowing Club something magical happens. “The aspect of rowing that I like the most is that it feels like nothing else in the world matters when we are at the starting line,” he says.

It’s a focus and commitment that he takes with him all the way to the finish line, and it’s why the senior and his Pioneer teammates often are the first to cross that finish line. McKarns, one of the senior captains on this year’s Pioneer team, can’t wait to get in the boat this spring for one final trip down the river.

“I’m really excited about the team this year,” he says. “We are so much more bonded as a team this year, and I’m very excited to see what we can do in the spring season. I think that this team has a lot of potential. If we put in the work in the winter, I think we can all make it to finals at Midwests and States.”

Pioneer rowers (L-R) Charlie Herz, Grayson Hobrecht, Gabe Raux, Will McKarns, and Evan Guzek.

Bonding is a big part of rowing, and the successful teams create a certain camaraderie in and out of the boat.

“Everyone on the team is super close,” McKarns says. “In the season, we all spend at least two hours with each other, not including the time we spend at school together. This year’s team especially has been really close and there’s a lot of people that I feel like are family to me. I now look forward to going to practice because I know that when I get there I am going to be surrounded by people that share common interests with and people I know I can be comfortable with.”

Being named captain is another reason the senior is excited about the season.

“It means a lot that people trust me, and I think that more than anything I am here to be a role model for the younger rowers,” he says. “I remember looking up to the older rowers and the captains my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. It was always reassuring to see someone who knows what they were doing.”

McKarns followed his brother Jack into the boat at Pioneer.

Before crew, McKarns played baseball growing up but says he lost interest around the eighth grade. “Rowing is very similar in the sense that nothing is going to happen without the team all working together, but other than that there are not many similarities between the two,” he says.

McKarns admits to being “scared” coming into crew his freshman year.

“I didn’t think I knew anyone, and I didn’t think I would be good at it and there was just a lot of overthinking going on,” he says. “Once I got there my attitude changed as I saw other people that also looked equally nervous. After our first practice, my entire attitude changed again. It was hot, I was sweaty and tired, and I wanted nothing to do with the sport at first. But I kept with it and now I love every aspect of it.”

One of the highlights of his career was earning a silver medal as a sophomore in a meet in Canada.

There are rowing meets in the fall and again in the spring – in between, there are grueling workouts.

“The winter is generally the hardest part of the season,” he says. “I often find myself questioning how I got to the point of forcing myself to stay on an erg while staring at the lockers for 20 minutes straight. Usually, we do a mix of cardio/technique training and strength training. This usually involves two or three days of work on the rowing machines and then two days down in the weight room for strength training.”

All of this hard work and dedication has helped make Pioneer one of the top rowing clubs in the state. But there it’s more than just that …

“I think one of the main reasons that Pioneer has been so successful is because for the most part everyone enjoys being there and we are all comfortable putting in more work to better ourselves,” McKarns says. “Another big advantage we have is that mostly everyone on the team has some other source of training. A lot of people on the team have gym memberships and go lift after practice which will always make a huge difference. I think that it’s always important to cross-train with something else you enjoy not only to build different muscle groups but also to not get burned out.”

William, 17, is the son of Tom and Lisa McKarns. He rows to a 3.7 grade-point average in the classroom and also enjoys photography. He plans on going to Michigan State next year.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet on whether I’m going to continue rowing there,” he says. “It’s a very time-consuming sport and as much as I love the sport, I think I might want to try something new.

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