He’s Got a Different Reason to Love This Sport

High Point assistant coach Sam Dempsey launches a crew.

By Zack Astran – Posted on October 18, 2015

Samuel Dempsey, a 24-year-old from Andover, Massachusetts, is back at the Head of the Charles for the third time.  And while it’s a bit different this time—he is now the assistant coach of the High Point University men’s team, after spending three years rowing for the North Carolina school—he feels that special feeling about being a part of the Head Of The Charles. Maybe even more than most.

While there isn’t a single person on the banks or on the water of the Charles River that doesn’t love the sport of rowing, none love the sport for quite the same reason Dempsey does.

He says simply that rowing saved his life.

Before coming to High Point University as a transfer student, Dempsey filled his life with raves, shows, festivals, and drugs.

“In 2012, I spent thousands of dollars on drugs,” Dempsey said.

At High Point he continued this downward spiral continued. A semester into his education at High Point, all Dempsey wanted to do was fit in and make new friends, like any normal transfer student would do. Drugs and alcohol where still very much a part of that process.

“I started to see this future of a non-stop party because I met a couple of kids that had really good drug connections,” Dempsey said.

In his mind, this lifestyle was exactly what he wanted.

A life full of fun.

A life full of risk.

A life full of adventure.

That was until Dempsey was on his way back from a music festival in Charlotte, North Carolina. After a few drinks at the music festival, Dempsey got in his car to drive home, only to be pulled over and arrested for a DUI roughly seven miles from campus.

After feeling the sheer disappointment from his father stemming from his arrest, Dempsey made an attempt to clean himself up and straighten his life out.

“I talked to my dad the next day after the arrest. Just the disappointment in my father’s voice when I told him,” said Dempsey. “That’s when I kind of started to think, all right maybe I’m making some questionable decisions.”

A couple months went by and Dempsey began to settle into a life without drugs and without trouble.  But as the memory of his arrest began to fade a bit, he bought some drugs for a concert on campus.

“I made the mistake of talking about it,” Dempsey said. “Security [at High Point] called the cops and the cops arrested me for drug possession.”

As all this was happening, rowing started to creep into Dempsey’s life. He went out for the High Point team, and a couple of months into winter training, he found the rigors and hardships of what it meant to be a rower was giving him the same high he had been getting from drinking and drugs.

“The raw drive was intoxicating,” Dempsey said. “It forced structure into my life that was rapidly deteriorating.”

As Dempsey embraced the hardships of rowing, he began to realize the true potential and talent he had in the sport of rowing. He won a silver at the Dad Vail Regatta in 2015, a gold and a silver at the Knecht Cup in New Jersey in 2014 and 2015, a gold at the 2015 Southern Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships in Tennessee and a gold at the American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships in 2015.

These medals and accomplishments are more than just hunks of gold and silver to hang on the wall. These medals helped Dempsey move from a life full of darkness to a life full of possibilities and happiness.

“Rowing was the infrastructure that saved my life,” said Dempsey. “I don’t doubt that I would not either be here, or I would be dead.”

Now, from his coach’s launch, Dempsey, like all coaches, is hoping to transmit skills, discipline and passion to his athletes.

And if they’re willing to listen, he might teach them about a whole lot more.

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