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Sisters maintain sport’s legacy

When Max Borghard was in high school, his father, Al, introduced him to the sport of rowing. Arguably more than other sport, rowing lends itself to families, said Borghard, now the head coach of the Rutgers rowing team.

“A lot of times you’ll see families where rowing is not the first sport people think of,” Borghard said. “They’ll try baseball, softball, gymnastics and at some point, they find the opportunity to do rowing. You’ll see the younger brother or sister like, ‘Oh, I’m going to try that’ when they get to about eighth grade, ninth grade.”

Life on the water became a family affair for the Fords. Janine Ford, the oldest rower, spent her final season with the Scarlet Knights last year. She rowed alongside sisters Laura, then a sophomore, and then-freshman Stephanie.

“When Janine was here,” Borghard said, “she was definitely the older sister.”

Laura and Stephanie Ford spent spring days watching Janine race for Borghard, head coach with the Knights since 1995. The sport rubbed off on the younger siblings, who both rowed four seasons at Nutley High School.

“It was definitely a factor,” Laura Ford said. “We would watch her race and want to be a part of the team.”

The Ford sisters’ high school coach, Kevin Smyth, rowed at Rutgers during his college career. Smyth taught Janine Ford as a sixth grader, convincing her to row at the high school level. She finished her final season on water 10 years later on the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association All-Mid-Atlantic First Team.

“Last year, I considered her the best rower at Rutgers,” Stephanie Ford said. “I feel like I’m just trying to work up to her standards.”

When it came time to recruit Laura and Stephanie Ford, it was “a fairly easy sell,” Borghard said.

“We’ve gotten to know the parents really well,” he said. “When Janine first got here, they were heavily involved. [Laura and Stephanie Ford] both really liked what they saw their sister going through, and I think they wanted to be a part of that.”

Borghard preaches intensity, and the Fords practice it. Both are near the top end of Rutgers’ rowing machine, which they use during workouts.

The Knights took to the water last week for the first time during the spring. Borghard plans for more work on the Raritan River in the coming days, along with land exercises.

But he had to combat more than weather conditions at the start of the season.

“We’re getting healthy with sickness, and people are doing a good job managing their injuries,” Borghard said. “We’re starting to take strokes on the water.”

Stephanie Ford rowed on Borghard’s varsity eight in her first season. Both sisters continue to compete for a spot on the varsity team in the spring.

In the process, Laura and Stephanie Ford stepped into a leadership role, Borghard said.

“They don’t really get fazed by the pressure of racing,” he said. “They just bring a nice balance between wanting to race hard and yet handling the pressure of racing.”

Both add years of rowing to a team that, to a certain extent, lacks them.

While Borghard points to athletes that played seasons of high school basketball, softball and other sports, some never rowed before. He does not have to worry about the Fords.

“Having experience helps. They try to lay down a good, strong rhythm,” Borghard said. “They’ve been solid performers through the winter. It’s just a help when we get that good competition, and everybody starts to raise their level. Having experience has been valuable.”

Laura Ford played basketball in high school, but rowing was her calling card. The junior was a senior captain at Nutley, winning at the Long Island and Upper Merrier Invitational.

Stephanie Ford earned significant time in the boat last year, capturing first place at the Murphy Cup and second at the Knecht Cup. She aided the Knights in a second-place finish in the fall at Navy Day.

“[My sisters] set the bar high for me,” the youngest Ford said. “They were really competitive when they were in high school. I wanted to be as good as they were.”

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