Leading the Boat with the Teeleys

Celestine Sutter ’27 in Features | April 12, 2024

          Crew is notoriously a difficult sport,  but how does one’s experience change when their coach is also their mom? The Teeleys,   an elite mother-daughter duo who excels in their sport, are a rare occurrence. Bernadette Teeley P’24, Dean of Students and Girls’ Varsity Crew coach,  and Vivian Teeley ’24, Captain of the Girls’  Varsity Crew team, have changed the trajectory of  Girls’ Crew at Lawrenceville, inspiring success—and hype—on the team. 

          Despite entering college completely new to the sport, Bernadette Teeley quickly cemented herself as an outstanding collegiate rower. After a year of training, she made the national team boat and competed in the women’s eight event. Her boat won first place in the 2002 FISA World Campionship in Spain, earning her a spot in the University of Dayton’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Bernadette shared that her success in this competition “was really exciting because [it] was a watershed moment in women’s sports,” as her boat was the first from the U.S. to win in over two decades. 

          The apple does not fall far from the tree, and Vivian Teeley is a prime example of this. Vivian has made her mark, not only as the Captain of Girls Varsity Crew, but also as the Captain of Girls Varsity Water Polo and a member of the Girls Varsity Swim team. A Class of 2028 Duke University crew commit, Vivian Teeley revealed how the “crewmunity” attracted her. Because she “grew up around crew, [she] saw that a lot of [her mother’s] friends were rowers, and it seemed like something [she] wanted to be a part of.” Vivian Teeley states that “although it’s a lot of work, it’s definitely something that [she] wanted to work at.”

          The Girls’ Varsity Crew team has been shaped by Bernadette Teeley’s leadership, and now her daughter’s, as well . Reflecting on her mother’s coaching style, Vivian feels that she “knows when to fire people up and when to settle them down,” which is something Vivian tries to achieve as Captain—although she has “a different way of getting people excited to be on the team.” For example, Vivian values “being a peer who’s super accessible to everyone, even II Formers.” Reinforcing the value of meaningful relationships, she recognizes that “you need to have an upperformer to underformer connection to have a good, coherent team where everyone respects each other [as well as] the coaches.” She believes this bond thrives with determination and enthusiasm from captains.

          Bernadette also emphasizes the “difficulties” and nuances of coaching one’s own daughter, or being coached by one’s parent.   She “[gives] all faculty children a lot of credit. “As Bernadette puts it, “to perform for [one’s] parents, there’s a personal read on everything said.” From a daughter’s standpoint, “criticism can land a bit more sharply, and praise can be doubted.” This feedback sparks motivation to “come every day and give [a rower’s] best,” an attribute of any great rower, according to Bernadette. 
How does the mother-daughter pair, who achieves high levels of success in the sport, define a “model rower?” According to Bernadette, attitude makes up most of the formula. A large part of rowing is “putting things behind you, as becoming  a champion does not mean that you have to get a  [new] personal record every practice; instead, it means you have to show up.” In a sport as grueling as crew, Bernadette states  that the ability to “apply feedback or criticism for the good of the boat” and the capacity to “master your own mental space when the little voice is telling you to stop” are crucial to the overall success of a rower and the team. 

          The bond between mothers and daughters spans across all places and ages. However, for Bernadette and Vivian Teeley, their mother-daughter bond involves a passion for the same sport and a shared  drive to better the team. Extending into the mindset of success, Vivian shares her mother’s motto: “It’s not the work you want to do that makes you better,” a phrase which reminds Vivian that hard work is a facilitator of success.