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Berkeley Prep rowers undertake a long haul for a worthy cause

Competitive rowers tend to be driven, even obsessive athletes. Ryan Pickren and Conor Murphy are no exception.

The two Berkeley Prep seniors recently raised about $8,000 for Eckerd programs for disadvantaged children in an unusual way: They spent 25 hours continuously rowing on an indoor rowing machine.

"This one was not very typical," said Karen Bonsignori, vice president for marketing and communications at Eckerd, a nonprofit headquartered in Clearwater that helped 11,000 children in need last year.

"We had about 250 volunteers last year who logged over 7,600 hours, and this is the first time someone has done an event like this for us," she said.

Not only that, the feat has been recognized as a world record for the teens' age and weight group by Concept2, the Vermont-based manufacturer of the rowing machines. The indoor rowers are used for off-the-water strength, endurance and speed training by rowing teams all over the world, including at Berkeley Prep.

Conor, 17, the son of Alison and Tony Murphy of St. Petersburg, said the two came up with the idea toward the start of the summer, when they were looking at records posted on Concept2's website and saw one they thought they could beat: lightweight men, 19 and under, rowing tandem, meaning one hour off, one hour on.

Ryan, 17, the son of Kimberly and Gregory Pickren of Oldsmar, has volunteered at Eckerd for the past three summers. He thought the ultra-long row would be a good way to raise money for the organization's child welfare efforts.

The money raised will go toward enhancing services not covered by other funding.

"Sometimes the only thing that stands in the way of success for an at-risk teen is a bus pass or a suit," Bonsignori said. Or, for example, the money might be used to brighten the holidays of a youngster who can't leave a residential treatment center to go home.

Murphy and Pickren collected pledges from family members, friends and local businesses, then launched their around-the-clock row on Sept. 24 at the Pickrens' home. Among rowers, the machines are known as "ergs" — short for "ergometer" — so they called the event "Ergothon 2011."

Along the way, they were coached and monitored by two coxswains, one from Berkeley Prep and one from the University of South Florida.

Although they had been building distance over the summer, their longest previous row had been 12 hours.

Over 25 hours, one hour longer than the previous record, they had covered nearly 295,000 virtual meters, farther than a trip from Tampa to Jacksonville.

"Conor had blisters on his hands. Ryan's knee was swollen," said Bonsignori, who saw the teens when they were well beyond the halfway mark.

Another challenge was sleep deprivation.

"The first couple of hours didn't seem too bad," said Murphy, the captain of Berkeley Prep's rowing team.

Later, he would jump off the rower and sleep for about 45 minutes, only to be awakened to learn that it was his turn to row again. After 18 or 19 hours, he said, "the hours when you're rowing seem to take forever, and your breaks seem to go by in about five minutes."

Once they hit the record, Murphy said he celebrated for about half an hour, then fell asleep about 3 p.m. and didn't wake up until 6 the following morning.

Setting the record was harder than they expected, Pickren said.

Not that it mattered.

"It was tough," he said, "but I don't think it ever crossed our minds to quit."

Richard Danielson can be reached at

Berkeley Prep rowers undertake a long haul for a worthy cause 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:32pm]
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