Calvin Tarczy on how the RP3 Dynamic helped him become a world champion

When Calvin Tarczy looks back on 2017, he might just consider it to be the turning point in his rowing career. A recent addition to the St. Paul’s School senior squad but struggling to adapt to the technical demands of the rigorous program put in place by coach Bobby Thatcher, Tarczy’s rise from squad member to junior world champion in a matter of months is as remarkable as it is rare.

There is little doubting that the 17-year-old had all the natural attributes to succeed in the sport. Blessed with height and power, he began his career at the Tideway Scullers School age 14. Having joined St. Paul’s School for sixth form, the quality of the program and on-campus location of the boathouse were two of the main attractions. “When I started there, Bobby was doing a lot of work with me, trying to get me row his style of rowing,” explains Tarczy, chatting to me one Saturday afternoon. “He focuses a lot on being relaxed and moving the speed of the boat.”

Tarczy initially struggled to get to grips with Thatcher’s demands; the St. Paul’s style is distinctive for its pinpointing of certain technical aspects of the stroke. The ease around the finish and the short pick-up, combined with an ease through the water that appears graceful to the eye but requires significant rehearsal to perfect. With the seminal winter races approaching, Thatcher realised that the program would need to be accelerated to maximise Tarczy’s potential. That is where the RP3 Dynamic Ergo comes in.

Tarczy explains: “When he’s coaching, Bobby is always thinking and trying to get you to think what’s actually going to help the boat go faster. There’s no point in yanking on it or breaking your arms too early because you’re just wasting energy. You’re not actually going to get any speed from that.”

The school took delivery of the RP3 before Christmas, and Thatcher set to work in January on practising the style he wanted his young charge to perfect. “Calvin does most of his low intensity ergo work on the RP3,” explained Thatcher. “It’s been influential on his rowing style as he’s constantly thinking about how he applies his power and how he sequences his movements.”

“The RP3 meant that Bobby could literally sit next to me and correct my posture, my angles, my stroke,” says Tarczy. “That was probably one of the biggest benefits on a wider scale, but for me I think the major thing is the way the information is displayed.”

When I pushed the junior world champion to elaborate, the stark differences between the RP3 and its rival machines were laid bare. “When you’re sitting on a Concept2, you get a split, rate and various watts and you can get a power curve,” explains Tarczy. “Training on the RP3, you can get stroke length, peak force, peak energy, energy per stroke and you also get a very detailed power curve which I think is really useful – it helped me to work out my drive sequencing. I think the RP3 feels unique in the way that out of all the ergs that try to mimic rowing on the water I think it’s the most similar. It was just the sheer amount of information that you get which allowed me to really focus on changing every little bit of the stroke rather than just looking at an outline of a power curve and trying to make differences there.”

Of course, it would be easy to simply assume that Tarczy’s success was a one-off. Athlete success stories come and go with relative frequency, but it is the sheer quantity of world-class rowers that St. Paul’s are producing that really marks Thatcher’s program out. Of the four guys who won gold in the coxed four last summer, three were from the Hammersmith-based school.

“I think success has definitely been more obvious since Bobby has joined St. Paul’s,” says Tarczy, clearly acknowledging the work that Thatcher has done. “There’s been a few big names who have come through now – Arthur Doyle, who’s in the Harvard first eight, and then after that Freddy Davidson and David Ambler. If you look at every world championships from Arthur to last year he’s slowly been sending more guys to worlds and more guys into the top worlds boat.”

Having the ability to translate the work done on the ergo clearly and concisely onto the water is a quality most coaches would kill for – and in the RP3, Thatcher has the tools to make the transition simple. “What I like most about the RP3 is the constant feedback,” said the former Olympian. “They get the rowers thinking about what they’re doing, as opposed to just smashing blind miles. The way we row at St. Paul’s is to really focus on what we are doing out of the water, so we don’t slow the boat down on the recovery and the RP3 is the perfect tool to aid this.”

“I’ve definitely noticed that after sessions on the RP3 I was able to sit in the boat and make it feel like I was rowing on the RP3,” muses Tarczy. “Before we got the machines, Bobby was doing work with me on the statics and I was able to think about some of that stuff but ultimately it didn’t really feel like water so getting into the RP3 I felt it was a lot easier to transfer my work across.”

With a junior world championship gold stored away in the locker, you might be forgiven for thinking that Tarczy has little left to prove in the sport. However, his start to the 2017/18 season has been nothing short of remarkable – a win in junior quads at the Fours Head was followed up by a stunning overall at the Scullers Head, a victory which took the rowing world by storm.

“I’m actually just coming back from appendicitis so after my recovery period I jumped straight into the quad” says Tarczy. “I guess sort of getting into the quad straight away after a good 3-4 weeks out of the boat meant it didn’t feel like a big change and I was able to achieve some good things sculling.”

On top of the two impressive domestic results, Tarczy also finished second in the scull at the Great Britain Junior Early ID Trials. Last season, the 17-year-old was part of the crew who won the school’s first ever championship eight gold medal at the National Schools’ Regatta. Their Henley Royal Regatta performance fell short of expectation though.

“It was a difficult race with the way the draw worked out as it feels like we didn’t get a proper Henley contest,” remembers Tarczy, when I ask him about the Friday face-off against eventual winners Scotch College, Australia. “Coming up against those guys in the quarter-finals and then losing felt like a bit of a let-down.”

Although the performance failed to scale the lofty heights of previous years (St. Paul’s won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in 2015) the crew are already targeting a win on the pearly blue waters of  Henley next summer in their bid to complete the elusive junior triple. “It’s been a great start,” admitted Thatcher. “I’m really happy with the commitment, attitude and progression of the boys but there’s a long way to go so we’re totally focused on the present, making small gains each week to maximise speed in the summer.”

With Tarczy and the backing of the RP3, it would take a brave man to bet against them.