Teen rowers give up medal dreams to help capsized foes

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It's always said that high school sports are supposed to teach young athletes the value of good sportsmanship. Now we all know that at least two prep rowers from Philadelphia are listening.

Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead
Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead

As first reported by the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia (Pa.) Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead made the ultimate sacrifice during their Under-17 doubles race at the Head of the Schuykill regatta on Sunday when they abandoned a promising start to help rescue two fellow competitors who had capsized.

With temperatures unseasonably cold and Philadelphia (Pa.) St. Joseph's Prep rowers Joe Leonard and Andrew Burrichter struggling with their boat and treading water in the icy river, Konopka and Mead made a snap decision to give up a promising start that could have landed them in the medals to help get the fellow high school rowers to safety, waiting with them until a safety launch arrived to get the St. Joseph's pair out of the frigid water.

"They had flipped," Konopka, a 16-year-old sophomore, said yesterday. "Nick said we should probably go back [to help them] and I agreed, so we turned around."

"They were yelling 'help' and one of the kids didn't appear as if he could swim too well," said Mead, a 16-year-old junior. "The water was cold and I'm sure their limbs were going numb."

Considering the fact that the high temperature in the Philadelphia area on Sunday was only around 45 degrees, Mead's concern about his competitor's condition was almost certainly correct.

For most teens, that good samaritan act would have been more than enough work for one day. That wasn't the case with Konopka and Mead, who insisted on turning back around and completing the race.

When the Episcopal Academy duo finally reached the finish line, their coaches were stunned that it had taken them so long … until they found out that the sophomore and junior had helped their capsized opponents. That information changed the Episcopal staff's reaction from one of mild disappointment to admiration of their own charges.

Clearly, it was the right response, just as Mead and Konopka's decision to help had been.

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