Testimonial: John Nichols ‘01

4 minute read

Joining the lightweight rowing team changed my life and defined my four years at Dartmouth. As an academic "recruit" (I did not apply early, but was officially recruited/told of my admission 1-2 months before the regular admission letters were sent), I came to campus with no particular idea of how I was going to spend my free time. I happened to be pulled aside on the green one fall afternoon by then-novice coach Chris Woll (still friends to this day), and like many other naive first-year students, he convinced me to give lightweight rowing a try.

I was pretty awful at first but I became fast friends with my teammates and loved how it provided a competitive outlet. I was hooked by my first true race at the foot of the Charles rowed in late November freezing rain, even if I was racing in a boat consisting almost entirely of students who would never row again after that day. Undeterred by almost being cut, I continued to work hard and show up every day, and ended in the first novice boat that spring along with 4 others who had never taken a stroke before Dartmouth. We were not incredibly successful that spring, but that group of men and women have become lifelong friends, and are without a doubt some of the most kind, interesting, and successful people I know. We have met across the world to ski together every year since graduation, and have shared too many other weddings, children being born, birthdays, etc. to count. They are some of my best friends in life.

Several of the young men from that novice boat became the backbone of the varsity crew over the next 3 years, in which we won multiple EARC sprints and IRA medals. Dick Grossman saw something in me that even I didn't see, and immediately put me into the varsity 8+ during my sophomore spring training trip, and I stayed there throughout my time at Dartmouth. I was chosen as the most valuable oarsman my senior year (Louis Breer Award) when we medalled at both the sprints and the IRA, and I graduated having been selected academic all Ivy twice, all Ivy my senior season, and the class of 1948 Dartmouth scholar athlete of the year my junior season.

I was an engineering science major, and graduated magna cum laude, phi beta kappa, and was a multiple time rufus choate scholar. I actually was forced to modify my major my senior spring to engineering modified with economics (not hard because I was already taking high level econ classes for fun), because I was told was technically ineligible to race because I wasn't making progress toward graduation as I already had all the necessary credits to graduate. I remember Dick pulling me aside on the deck in Augusta, Georgia and telling me I had made myself ineligible by being a good student. It worked out, and I still get a laugh every time I remember his panicked face as he worried that he was going to lose his five seat a few weeks before the first spring race. Good times.

After graduating, I did the whole corporate recruiting dance and joined a consulting firm. I didn't enjoy the work, and after a few years decided to apply to medical school. During that time, I came back to rowing, and went on to row for the United State Rowing Team for three years before starting medical school at Johns Hopkins, competing twice in the lightweight 8+ (London 2006, Munich 2007), and once in the lightweight pair (Linz 2008). In 2008 I spent 6 months at the US Olympic Training Center as part of the final group fighting for a spot in the lightweight 4- for the Beijing Games. Following worlds in 2008, I moved to Baltimore with my wife Elizabeth Badger (class of 2002, women's rowing), to start medical school at Johns Hopkins, and I am now a pediatric anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital after residency at MGH and fellowship at Boston Children's Hospital.

I took a very strange route to my current place in life, but I never would have gotten there without my experience as a Dartmouth lightweight. It taught me how to work harder than I ever thought possible, how to structure my time, and how to work as a team. In every interview I have had, the sport has come up in some way or another, and i'm sure it has helped me land positions where without it, I may have been passed up. But probably the most important thing about the team is that it provided an incredible social outlet at Dartmouth that was synergistic with my studies. It forced me to eat well, get sleep, and spend my time wisely or else I would not be able to succeed on the water. The bonds I had with my teammates allowed me to eschew the greek system, as I already got to spend many hours a day with my best friends, and to avoid many of the negative aspects of that side of Dartmouth. The same decision was made by many of my teammates as we were all confident in our own special group. Lightweight rowing at Dartmouth made me a better student and a better person, and its elimination will potentially deprive future students looking for a competitive and social outlet from having the life-changing experiences that I had. If you want to have a healthy, non-alcohol focused campus, think closely about cutting activities that provide an alternative to that.