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Health Scares Don't Deter Wilton Rower David Sullivan

Wilton's David Sullivan, right, who rows for Norwalk River Rowing Association, has overcome health issues to become one of the team's top athletes.He is pictured with Matt Koenigsberg. Photo Credit: Contributed by David Sullivan
Wilton's David Sullivan rows for the Norwalk River Rowing Association. Photo Credit: Contributed by Alan Blake

WILTON, Conn. -- Wilton High School senior David Sullivan’s career with Norwalk River Rowing Association has been filled with ups, downs and ambulances. Now, he’s getting ready for a last chance to bring home a medal from the U.S. National Championships.

Sullivan has been beset by physical issues, including a heart arrhythmia that required two surgeries to fix. He was also in the team van that was involved in a scary accident just two days before last year’s national championship. Sullivan hopes to take the first step back to nationals this weekend when he competes in two events at the Northeast Junior District Championships in Lowell, Mass.

“Whenever I step into a boat or an erg, I never know if I’m going to walk off or be taken out in an ambulance,’’ said Sullivan, who will continue his rowing career at George Washington University. “I think I’ve had to go off in an ambulance seven or eight times. There’s a joke at the club that says I have the ambulance on speed dial.

“All of my friends have told me I should stop. There were times I thought that I shouldn’t keep going. But there isn’t anything else that I want to do. The feeling you get on the water is not like anything else.”

Perhaps the scariest moment of Sullivan’s career came last June. He was one of six passengers from the club in a van heading to the U.S. championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn.  A wrong-way driver speeding on Interstate 75 nearly smacked into the van near the Georgia-Tennessee border. The van carrying the Norwalk rowers avoided the oncoming car but hit another car stopped on the highway.

The accident occurred late Thursday night. Some Norwalk rowers were too seriously injured to compete. Sullivan was bruised and sore all over his body. He and teammate Matt Koenigsberg summoned the energy to compete. They were third coming into the final 300 meters when Koenigsberg fell ill. They wound up sixth.

“As much as I hurt physically, once I got on the water I forgot about everything,’’ Sullivan said. “I think I was just going on pure adrenaline.”

The missed opportunity has stuck with Sullivan. It also provided motivation for him throughout a long year of training.

“I think I’ve rowed every race this year like it was the last 200 of nationals,’’ Sullivan said. “I know we have another chance at it this year. I want to get that medal on my wall.”

Sullivan will compete in the Men’s Varsity 2x and Men’s Youth 4+ at this weekend’s championships. He and teammate Stefan Petreski have a chance to make it back-to-back nationals. Sullivan could also make it with the 4+. The top three in each event advance to nationals.

However, the rest of his career with NRRA shakes out, Sullivan feels blessed to have been part of it. He played all sorts of sports as a youngster, but a friend suggested rowing.

“I was lousy,’’ Sullivan said. “The first year I was just about last on my erg scores. It has been a journey, and I look back and can’t believe how far I’ve come. I ask myself, 'How did I get here?' This club has given me everything. It would be nice if I can end it with a medal from nationals.”

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