If you had asked Elliot Hovey ’98 while he was at Brookwood what his future would look like, he probably wouldn’t have said he’d be a two-time Olympic rower. Back in his years at Brookwood, Elliot was busy starring in “Frosty the Snowman,” singing in the “Will Rogers Follies,” and remembering his lines for Mrs. Forbe’s 5th grade Greek Mythology play. In addition to his involvement in the performing arts, Elliot could often be found racing down a ski slope, skating in an ice rink, or playing on the field hockey and lacrosse fields. Rowing wasn’t even in his sight-lines while he was here, but as Elliot told me recently, you have to “…always be willing to try new things…and have as much fun as you can while doing them!”
In his eighth grade year at Brookwood, at the suggestion of Mr. Southworth, Elliot Hovey watched a video about the Salisbury School in Connecticut to see if he might want to apply there for high school. When he saw clips of the rowing team in action, he was intrigued. Seeing this video set in motion a new, unexpected course of events in Elliot’s life, although at this stage, no one (including Elliot) could have predicted what feats and accomplishments were yet to come.
While at Salisbury, Elliot excelled at rowing, which he began in the spring of his 9th grade year. In his sophomore year, his coach suggested he try out for the Jr. National Team. Elliot says that he immediately loved “…the barebones philosophy of the sport. If you pull harder, you win.” He also liked the tangible, measureable, improvements of the sport. He knew he was getting faster and stronger with each new personal best time set and race won. Elliot felt empowered by rowing, and into his sophomore and junior years, he began to see that he was carving a new, unexpected path for himself.
Although Elliot had originally hoped to go to Brown University, life took another unexpected turn in 2002 when he was recruited to row D-1 for UC Berkeley in California, the top collegiate rowing program in the country. At UC Berkeley, rowing in eight-person boats, Elliot gained immeasurable experience and discipline, as well as honed his skills. In 2006, Elliot and the Golden Bears won a National Title in his senior year in the Varsity Eight. After his college career ended, Elliot caught the eye of Tim McLaren, the recently appointed head coach of California Rowing Club, and ex-coach of the Australian Olympic Rowing Team. Tim encouraged Elliot to start sculling, which requires more skill, finesse, and discipline than rowing in the eight-person boats. Being fully aware that sculling was a new frontier, Elliot knew he was ready for the next challenge. Little did he know, his path to the Olympics started to become a reality.
Upon graduation from UC Berkeley in 2006, Elliot turned his focus to training for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Training was tough, as he wasn’t being sponsored and he had to balance training with working to support himself. Despite the intensity of the grueling two years, Elliot loved the hard work and discipline. He also cites “…a lot of luck and good timing…” to have been able to train at the Oakland based California Rowing Club (CRC). After two years of early mornings, and thousands of miles rowed, Elliot found himself headed on a 14-hour flight to Beijing with an Olympic dream in hand. "It was completely surreal.”
Elliot describes himself at his first Olympic experience in Beijing as a “deer in headlights.” Everything was unfamiliar, new, and exciting. His team was the dark horse in the competition, and like Elliot, many of his teammates were new to the Olympics. Although his team didn’t win any medals, Elliot left the games feeling incredibly proud and humbled to have been an ambassador for his country. For generations his family had been involved in politics and the military, and the Olympics was Elliot’s way of making his own mark on the world stage, among hundreds of other athletes, each representing his own country. Elliot says he could not have been more honored to wear his nation’s colors and to stand side by side with his fellow athletes in the brotherhood of the global community. His horizons had been infinitely broadened by his experiences in Beijing.
After the Beijing games, Elliot and many of his teammates rowed in many national competitions, competing at the highest levels and finding much success. Additionally, Elliot began to train for the 2012 games in London. Training for his second Olympics was an entirely different experience than the first. This time, Elliot had ready access to top training facilities, was based at U.S. Olympic Training Center which provided subsidized housing and food, and had a training room, massage, physical therapists, and nutritionists to help take care of his body. With all of this additional support, Elliot felt that he had no excuses to perform below his peak. But the pressure to succeed was greater as well.
The 2012 London Olympic games had a vastly different feel for Elliot. He knew what to expect in terms of responsibilities and the level of competition, and this time around, he was less of a spectator and more of a player. He says he was more able to “keep his head down and keep his focus.” He had earned the position of stroke seat because of his focus and tenacity, and he knew that this would most likely be his last opportunity to bring home a medal. Elliot felt a deeper sense of determination this time around, and felt prepared to win.
Unfortunately, the 2012 games didn’t go as well as expected for the U.S. Team. Elliot says that he and his teammates “underperformed…and it was very disconcerting given their level of preparation and hard work…” Despite the deep and sincere disappointment, Elliot called their failure “maturing,” and he appreciated the unifying experience of working through the loss as a team. He says the games left him with a huge feeling of frustration, and yet he was quick to cite the importance and rewards of “trying to shoot for the moon, and not fearing the outcome.” He says, "[you]…might surprise yourself, land on a star, and find yet another new path on which to embark.”
This healthy perspective--forward-looking and open-- captures Elliot’s true spirit and essence. He has always been open to possibilities, and remains humble, despite his diversity of talents and many successes throughout his life thus far. Whether winning the drama award in high school, or the Nationals in college, Elliot says it’s important to remember that success is relative, and that it is truly measured in how much you can surprise and delight yourself in the unexpected. This is the advice he wants to pass on to current Brookwood students as they contemplate and dream about their next steps. “Always try new things.” And to follow up with a quotation he left in his 1998 Brookwood yearbook; “Find your game.” Well said, Elliot.