A rather unspectacular start in rowing led to a spectacular national team appearance which has seen David Banks compete in two Olympic Games for the United States. And he has no intention of stopping there. David, a graduate of California’s Stanford University, was drawn to rowing because of his competitive nature and despite a number of competitive setbacks, David has endured. He is now one of the more established members of the men’s sweep squad and he talked to World Rowing while preparing to race in Sydney last month at the Samsung World Rowing Cup.
Athlete of the Month - April 2013
World Rowing: Where are you based for the month of April?
David Banks: I’ve been in San Diego at the US Olympic Training Centre. I’ve been there off and on since London (Olympics). After Sydney I’ll be going to the training centre in Oklahoma City.
WR: Do you have any races this month?
DB: Yes, I’ve got the NSR’s (national selection regatta) that will be in pairs.
WR: How did you come to be involved in rowing?
DB: I played basketball and ran track (800m) at high school. I didn’t know anything about rowing when I went to university and I was planning to be a walk-on for the track team. I ended up rowing. I’ve always been an athletic person, a competitive person and I was thinking track, but a friend was a recruiter for the rowing team so I went to the first practice and the coach (Craig Amerkhanian and Jon Allbin at Stanford University) seemed real passionate and explosive.
WR: Was there a turning point or something that triggered you to want to row at the elite level?
DB: I’d say it was more gradual than one thing. I liked the pure competitiveness that comes with it.
WR: How did you then get into the national team?
DB: In my fourth year of rowing at college I got invited to the national team training centre. I didn’t make the team, but I’d already agreed to do a graduate programme and I wanted to do it because a lot of people had helped me get in. I did the programme but still trained a lot, stayed fit and rowed when I could with the purpose of getting onto the team.
Mike Teti (US national team coach) helped me with workouts and goals to hit. I was out there (training) by myself but sometimes I had funny characters to train alongside (at the Stanford gym). One guy (a professor at the university) had his two six-year-old daughters doing about 60 minutes on the erg one day. I felt if they could do it, so could I!
WR: What do you think helped you get on the Olympic team in 2008?
DB: I don’t think there was one thing that got me on to the team. I tried to listen to everyone especially the older guys. I rowed with Paul Teti and he helped me along the way.
WR: It sounds like you are very driven?
DB: It starts out for me to try to be the best that I can be out there. I’ve had a lot of disappointments and that makes you want to drive yourself further.
WR: You’ve been to the Olympic Games twice - has your family been there to see you?
DB: My family came both times and my girlfriend.
WR: Who would you name as the big influence(s) in your life?
DB: A ton of people. My family, my mum, dad, brother, sister, cousins… They’ve always supported me and also really good friends and a lot of people in rowing – coaches, Mike Teti, Kris Korzeniowski, Tim McLaren and all of the guys that I’ve rowed with.
WR: Have you got any favourite sayings from coaches?
DB: Oh, a lot! Some I can’t repeat. I’ve had a lot of different styles in coaching and I’ve had to learn to listen to different voices. I always try to challenge myself.
WR: Being part African American do you feel like you need to be a role model in this sport?
DB: All of us have a responsibility to present the sport in the best way, especially in the States where there’s so many choices. There are minorities and people of colour that don’t see or get the opportunity to do rowing or have the resources to do it.
I’ve worked with some schools in Philadelphia and New York. I can’t be blind to the fact that if you talk to someone that looks more like you, what you say is going to resonate more.
Not everyone is going to go to the Olympics, it’s not about that, it’s just about opening their eyes to the bigger world.
World Rowing: You were talking about moving to Oklahoma. Are you there now and how is the transition?
David Banks: Yes, I have moved to Oklahoma City. I moved a few weeks ago and things have been going well. The community and others in the Oklahoma City area are very supportive and welcoming. It wasn’t too difficult, I just packed up the car with most of my stuff. It always takes a little time to get settled and back into a rhythm but feeling good so far.
WR: I understand that you've got NSR's (national selection regatta) coming up at the end of the month. How will you prepare for these?
DB: Yes, we have NSRs at the end of April. After we came back from Australia (Samsung World Rowing Cup I) we got back into training again, got more miles in and a little more volume to get ready for the race. I will be rowing in a pair and definitely looking forward to that.
WR: What has been your hardest workout day so far this month?
DB: We had some good training days soon after we got back and I moved to Oklahoma. They were a little tough, just getting used to moving and transition and everything. But it was definitely good work and the boat is getting faster.
WR: As a former 800m track runner what do about the 800m helped you in rowing?
DB: I think just learning how to push yourself in track & field carried over well to rowing. In addition the 800 is a long sprint and so that is very similar to rowing. It’s maybe more of a natural crossover than say coming from the 100 meters or long distance.
WR: Where can you be found in the hour before a big race? Do you like to get psyched up or calm down?
DB: I used to listen to music and stuff in college, but now I just try to stay focused. I think that works best for me, just staying calm and focused until it’s time to really go. There is no point in wasting energy getting too hyped up before you even get on the water. But everyone is different. For some people, it really helps (to be psyched up) to get them going. You just have to find what works for you and gets you in the right mindset.
WR: What is your main non-rowing project that you have on at present?
DB: At the moment, no real non-rowing projects. I am currently looking for some work to support myself in the Oklahoma City area. But having just moved there, that might take some time. With the travelling, racing and moving I haven't had too much time for other non-rowing things. So hopefully, once I get settled I will find some.
WR: If you could invite any rower (or rowers) in the world to dinner who would they be?
DB: It would be interesting to sit down with some of the rowers from the early days when rowing first was in the Olympics around 1900. It would be interesting to hear about the sport from their perspective and to see how the sport changed and how it is still the same.
WR: What is the longest that you've been out of a rowing boat since you started rowing competitively?
DB: The longest I have been out of rowing since I started rowing competitively was about 4-5 months. Back in the winter of 2011 I tore my calf muscle playing basketball after the World Championships in New Zealand. It took a few months to heal and then I started rehab with our team physical therapist Marc Nowak. He is the man and he really helped provide a solid programme and plan to get healthy and build my strength back to what it was before the injury.
WR: What is your motivation to keep rowing at the top level now that you've been to two Olympic Games?
DB: My motivation to keep going after two Olympics is pretty simple. I want to get better and to win some races. I still feel I can do both and so I will work to do that.
WR: What do you imagine that you'll be doing in about ten years time?
DB: Ten years from now I hope I am doing something worthwhile for myself and the world around me. Hopefully it will be something as worthwhile to me as rowing is now. It’s been adventure so far so hopefully it still continues ten years from now!