Kenneth Coplan was upset when he found out his parents had gone behind his back and signed him up for a rowing camp run by the coaches at Montclair High School.
Finally, after some convincing, the reluctant 14-year-old Coplan agreed to give it a try.
“The rest is history,” he said.
Coplan, a 2018 Montclair High School rowing alumnus and now rising junior on the Heavyweight Men’s Rowing Team at Harvard University, won a silver medal with Team USA in the Men’s Eight at the U23 World Championships in Račice, Czech Republic on July 11.
“That final was the greatest race I have ever been a part of,” Coplan said of the intense match up which saw the top three boats remain within a second of each other throughout the entire race. “Although we didn’t walk away as world champions, I am incredibly proud of the result. We gave it our absolute all and left everything we had on the water. That race is a race we will be talking about and analyzing for years to come and a race I will never forget.”
The feat was a true triumph for Coplan who had to overcome a herniated disc back injury that forced him to miss about four months on the water. Coplan was in London at the time – he took a gap year from college due to the COVID-19 pandemic and spent seven months living in a boathouse on the Thames River, working and rowing. His coaches and physical therapists didn’t think it would be possible for him to make a comeback in time for the U23 World Championships, and while he didn’t return to the water until May 9, 2021, he shocked everyone when he still managed to earn a spot on the U23 team. Two months later, he stood on the podium as a silver medalist at the World Championships.
“This was my last year of U23 eligibility and I wanted to go and see if I could make the team because if I didn’t try it would have haunted me,” he said.
During his comeback training, Coplan remembered a lesson learned from Montclair Rowing head coach Jeremy Michalitsianos about not falling victim to self-fulfilling prophecies. “If I believed that the training was too much and it would cause my back to give out, my back would get re-injured,” said Coplan. “I kept a positive attitude and made sure to spend as much time as possible stretching before and after each training session. As a result, I was able to make the team and stay healthy.”
Coplan is no stranger to victory. He previously won a bronze medal with Team USA at the U19 World Championships and won two Stotesbury Cups with the Mounties in 2017 and 2018. He is also a two-time Scholastic Rowing Association of America champion in the Varsity 8s, a bronze medalist at the US Rowing Youth Championships, and was part of a semi-finalist team at the Henley Royal Regatta in the United Kingdom.
Coplan credits Michalitsianos and Montclair Rowing for playing a large part in his rowing success.
“We were immediately aware of Kenny’s potential on first meeting with him,” Michalitsianos said. “He was already tall, strong and athletic with a fierce determination to succeed – the type of athlete we are always looking for. He’s incredibly hard-working, not just as an athlete, but academically as well. It was no surprise that he was recruited to row at Harvard. His silver medal at the U23s is testament to his desire to succeed.”