In any typical NCAA sport, it’s a difficult ordeal to even try to be a walk-on, let alone make the team. For Marist’s Women’s Crew team, though, walk-ons are welcomed with open arms. In fact, walk-ons make up a large majority of the freshman squad.
On move-in day, Head Coach Tom Sanford talked with me for quite a while about why I should join crew. Honestly, I was completely unconvinced and uninterested. Only about 10 minutes later, Coach Michelle Stathers approached us and she explained the benefits of rowing. Once my Mom and I caught up to my Father, he told me he had a great conversation with the Women’s Crew coach and the head coach of the crew program and he thought I should join the team. I was being triple-teamed by two coaches and my Dad.
Knowing that the gym and intramural sports would be the only other way I’d stay in shape at college, and being a lover of sports, I promised my Dad that I would at least go to the Crew meeting and then I’d decide whether or not to stick with it; if nothing else, crew would help me avoid the “freshman 15.” Fast forward 8 weeks from that initial meeting and I’m still rowing!
I fell in love, not only with the sport, but with the team, the coaches, the camaraderie, the exercise, and the adrenaline of being on the water every day and learning a completely new sport. It’s absolutely exhilarating. I’ve never played a sport that demanded so much of my time and energy, and the last time I was on a school team was freshman year of high school. I’ve since been reminded about how much I love being a part of a team. There is no feeling quite like knowing that your teammates are going through the same agony as you are as you row a “power 50” to the finish line, or the excitement you all share as you cross the starting line at the beginning of a race. Only your teammates understand what you’re feeling like after a long practice, running hills or a forty minute erg piece, and being on crew helps me remember how much I missed the close-knit feeling of being part of a team.
What I did not fall in love with is 6:15 a.m. practices. Three things I have learned so far are there is no getting used to waking up at 5:35, there is never a bad time for a nap when you’re on the crew team, and breakfast is the greatest part of my day- that means practice is over and I can eat! Fortunately, my new found love for crew extends far beyond my hatred of being up before the sun rises.
After eight weeks of waking up early and working hard as a team, I rowed in my first regatta. This was one of those moments that I can say I will remember for the rest of my life. I had to get cleared by the NCAA to participate. The week before the race was filled with worry about whether or not I’d get cleared to race in Delaware on October 22. Once that anxiety passed and I got the email that I would be allowed to row, I was focused on my first race.
It’s been a while since I have been as excited as I was on race day. After realizing I really have no idea what I’m doing, asking an annoying amount of questions and then finally getting over my nervousness, I, along with the other seven oarsmen and the coxswain, launched our boat and rowed to where the race on the Christina River began. I wasn’t the only person in my boat who was a newbie to rowing. Only one other girl in my boat had ever rowed before, so we all shared the same excitement and worry about experiencing our first race. 5 kilometers later, our coxswain was excitedly yelling at us to “row harder,” “500 meters left,” “power 20, another power 20, power 10 to finish.” These words come as a blessing and a curse when your whole body aches, yet you know the end is near.
Aside from the first 500 meters and the last 500 meters of the race, the remainder is a blur. The only thoughts I remember are “power” and “sit up at the catch,” as Coach Ricky would be telling me at practice. What I do remember is feeling very accomplished with myself and my boat as we crossed the finish line. As novices, we are prone to making mistakes, but we had an excellent race and navigated a complicated river with ease and speed.
My first race made me love rowing even more than I already did, and I can’t wait for upcoming races and my upcoming seasons with the crew team. As a novice, I know that I have a lot more to learn and my form can use a lot of perfecting, but that’s exciting and nerve wracking- in a good way!