Athletics continue to take a Sauk Prairie High School alum across the world.
Rowing for the University of Wisconsin and the University of Cambridge has provided Luke Juckett with some memorable experiences, but Juckett’s latest venture — the RowZambezi Challenge — should be his most immersive experience yet.
Juckett, a 2008 Sauk Prairie graduate, is signed on as part of the RowZambezi Challenge, a two-week, 900-kilometer rowing trip down the Kafue River in Zambia this summer.
“It’s an adventure,” said Juckett, who is currently a bioinformatics analyst in Boston. “It’s a big event and I’m very excited.”
The primary goal of the expedition, which will run from July 22 until Aug. 2, is to address fresh water issues in Zambia. The trip will raise funds for Village Water, an organization that builds wells and provides additional sanitation solutions in rural Zambia, as well as for the Kafue River and Rowing Centre, a multi-purpose water management research and rowing facility. The 14-day trip will start in the Kafue National Park and end at the Kafue River and Rowing Centre, which is located on the Kafue River, south of the capital city of Lusaka.
RowZambezi will consist of three boats; the Red Boat, the Orange Boat and the Green Boat. Juckett’s Red Boat is known as the Boat Race Challenge Crew because it is made up of University of Cambridge and University of Oxford alumni. The Orange Boat is made up of a variety of individuals, while the Green Boat, “Team Africa”, consists of rowers from four African nations, including several Olympians.
The variety of participants is essential to the expedition, as one goal of the trip is to spread the sport of rowing. The group will stop for “learn how to row” days, while they will also conduct field research, study wildlife conservation and work to provide clean water. The expedition has partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation in order to research the Zambia River Basin ecosystem.
How he got here
Juckett’s path to Zambia started in high school, when he received a letter from the University of Wisconsin looking for potential collegiate rowers. A varsity hockey and football player, Juckett jumped at the opportunity and attended a tryout during his senior year at Sauk Prairie.
“Fortunately it’s a sport where you don’t need a terrible amount of experience, so I went down and checked it out.” Juckett said. “I grew up in Wisconsin and my dream was to compete as a Badger. That was my window, so I jumped on it.”
Juckett attended a weeklong rowing camp prior to his freshman year in Madison and eventually competed on the freshman crew during the 2008-09 school year before spending the next three years with the varsity crew. Juckett and the Badgers took third in the Eastern Athletic Rowing Conference in 2011 and 2012, while finishing fourth nationally in 2011.
Juckett graduated from the UW in 2013 with a degree in biomedical engineering. Graduate school awaited, and so did an opportunity to continue rowing.
“It’s a love/hate sport,” Juckett said. “It’s a tough sport, absolutely brutal, but I was good at it. And you enjoy things you’re good at and you roll with it.”
Juckett headed to England and enrolled at the University of Cambridge, one of the premier rowing programs in the world. The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is the highlight of the rowing calendar and is the second-oldest collegiate sporting event in the world, dating back to 1829. The Boat Race pits Oxford and Cambridge against each other in a race down the River Thames in London. Juckett’s Cambridge team lost in 2014 and 2015 before winning in 2016, Juckett’s final race.
“Racing in front of 250,000 spectators was wild,” Juckett said, noting that rowing is a premier sport in the UK. “It’s hard to describe.”
Giving back through sport
When Juckett originally tried out for the University of Wisconsin rowing team he was “just hoping to make the team and get through freshman year.”
Ten years later, rowing is still making a huge impact on his life. That life-altering impact has encouraged him to give back. Interested individuals can support the RowZambezi Expedition by donating at https://rowzambezi.com/get-involved/sponsor-us/.
“The sport has provided us with a whole lot of opportunities to go all over the world and race on beautiful rivers, so it’s an opportunity for us to give back,” Juckett said of what motivates him and his crew members to participate in RowZambezi. “The rowing community is a great deal smaller than many sports groups, but with the right project and motivation, we can still make a tremendous impact. ... I am pursuing this opportunity to facilitate happy and healthy lives for the people in the villages of Africa.”