Canoe rivalry commences

Andy Hsiao Chung, Staff Writer

Water splurges as a paddle strikes in a coordinated rhythm, drenching a canoe’s sides while momentum takes it on a brisk dash around the 25-by-10 yard pool.

The canoe slows as it nears the poolside. Eric Giancatarino, an engineer student, climbs out, trudges to a row of chairs and sits.

This is the Pitt- Johnstown Concrete Canoe Team’s first paddling practice, and Giancatarino is a team newcomer.

“I heard it mentioned during University Scholarship class,” says Giancatarino.

He said he was fascinated to meet new people who, like him, are also engineering students.

“I figured it was a cool thing to do.” While new sets of threes board the canoe, four young women pace to the poolside and sit with their toes in the water singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” as the canoe departs for another few laps around the pool.

Team captain Patricia Roling’s voice stood out from the other young women, clear and vivid.

A day later, the team holds a build meeting in the Engineering and Science building.

At exactly 5 p.m., engineers shuffle into the Civil Lab, responding to their call of duty that Roling sent out via e-mail.

Upon entering the lab, the paint-and-dent covered wooden work benches reveal their age. Above, several basins are filled with a certain gray matter.

“They are mixes,” says David Hill, last year’s captain, who has readily put on latex gloves, demonstrating his experience by swiftly and hardily blending the mixes like bread dough.

While pacing and reviewing each work bench, team member Christopher Garaventa says that the mixes contain cement and are to be used in the molding process later on.

Time seems to elapse quickly as the engineering students dig into their work.

The engineers line up outside of the Civil Lab office, a room that, while small, has a wall filled with several awards from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Several are for the Concrete Canoe competition.

“We’ve been to nationals the past three years in a row and four out of the past five,” says Hill, adding that, for the past two years, the team earned enough points to place among the top 18 teams.

“We are only working with maybe one-tenth, one-twentieth (the budget) of the other contestants,” said Garaventa.

“I remember two years ago, at nationals, some team complained that they’d gotten their budget cut to $50,000.”

For the Pitt-Johnstown team, $1,700 was allocated to Concrete Canoe.

“We use barbed wire along the gunwales of the canoe just in case a crack occurs and it holds it,” says Roling. “There are schools that just get steel-reinforced cables.”

The crew nods simultaneously in agreement, however – their aspiration and spirit is not lessened by less money.

“The barbed wire fix,” says Hill, “is a $10 fix for a $1,000 problem.”

Subtlely, the group atmosphere shifts to commendation for the past and conviction for the coming competitions.

Drexel University, most of the other crew members agree, is the main rival. Garaventa objects, listing University of Maryland.

“Maryland is our friend,” says Roling. Hill concurs. “Maryland is friendly competition, but, every year, as long as I’ve been part of the Canoe, it’s been Drexel.

“Honestly, we want to win – regionals, nationals. But beyond all, we want to beat Drexel.

“Other than that, our expectations are to win, and to place better in nationals than last year.”