I’m more than just a: rower

Rigorous training does not define the lives of rowers


Stuart Rodgers

Lily Feinerman, Hannah Lerner, Allison Elli, Janie Rudolph, and Rachel Rane in the fall of 2018

Numbing practices in October and March, anxiety-inducing erg tests, a 20 minute trek to practice, seven hour bus rides to regattas, limited free time. . . . These are common complaints that make people ask rowers why they participate in such a strenuous sport. If it takes up a student-athlete’s entire life, how and why do they continue to show up at tryouts and strap into the boat?

Though these are regular challenges of the sport, every rower has an answer. It often has to do with the team, an irreplaceable group of people who, despite complaints, choose to commit to this intense extracurricular.

The image of a rower can be as extreme as an obsessed athlete who eats, sleeps, hydrates, and trains, only talking about rowing in between classes and their practice schedule.
Members of the rowing team are aware of this reputation; sophomore coxswain Chase Hetler said, “The stereotype [of a rower] is someone who’s obsessed with rowing and whose world revolves around that sport.”

To turn this reputation of complete commitment into a positive, captain Allison Elli said, “I think [the rower stereotype] shows how involved we all are and how much we care about the team, but we all also have lots of other interests and passions. For example, I’m really passionate about environmental issues, and I’m also in IGSS and very involved in that. I think we’re all very well rounded people. But in a group we typically talk only about rowing, which is where I think the stereotype comes from.”

Though the team takes up a lot of time during regular practice hours and beyond, Hetler described herself as more than just a rower.

“I love any sport or activity that’s outside, like hiking and skiing. I love to travel and that always comes before any sport for me.”

To be fast takes physical strength, mental toughness, and hard work, but rowers have countless interests and friends outside of the team.

“Being a rower isn’t the only thing that defines us. We’re just like everyone else,” said senior coxswain Rachel Rane, clarifying that although the team devotes a lot of time to rowing, the work is only one part of being on the team.

Just like any other NT sports team, crew is made up of individuals who are proud to represent their team. At the same time, they wear more than NTRC logos, think about more than 2K times, and aspire to be more than athletes — though several team members represent NT crew at top college rowing programs.

Charlie Fargo, captain and World Rowing Junior Championship medalist, explained that just like in any other sport, it’s impossible to limit rowers to one stereotype.

“Many of the people on the team are diverse and have many other talents and interests.” For Fargo, some of these interests include skiing, biking, and slacklining.

Beyond other athletics, rowers participate in clubs such as VIP and Social Service Board. Several rowers have referenced their sport as the reason for their time management skills and hard working qualities. Working around a busy practice schedule makes rowers’ time valuable, so where they choose to devote their free time matters. Every sports team has its requirements, but every team member finds interests and expressions outside of that for a sense of individuality.

Fargo added, “The rowers, just like any other team who are with each other for an extended period of time, develop close relationships that last from freshman through senior year. I’d say that every athlete at New Trier has the same mindset of competitiveness and sportsmanship.”
Compared to other sports, rowing is still just an optional extracurricular that’s fun because of the bonds teammates build.

Captain Josh Pickard put it simply, “We are all just a bunch of dudes that like to move boats and work out with friends. There is really nothing more to being a rower than that. In that respect, I don’t break from the stereotype because I don’t see one.”

While the workouts are challenging, training is rewarding because of the best part — the team.
According to captain Marilyn Gao, non-rowers wonder why we continue to do something that makes us complain so much.

“The reason I do it is for the team. I love my teammates and I care about the team dynamic and that’s why rowing is worth it.” Gao also mentioned the teamwork and leadership she has gained as a team member and captain.

While it may seem like the majority of their time is spent in a boiler room or in a boat (or in Ohio), rowers can be found in the mountains, in the library, in groups of non-rowers, in clubs, on the newspaper, always fueled by the enthusiasm and dedication that come from being part of a team.

As several rowers from the broad team perceive it, the stereotype of a rower may be accurate in some of its positive qualities that define rowers as a dedicated, team-oriented, and focused group of unique, fun, and talented individuals.

Rowers support each other, and all it takes to be a rower is to love rowing enough to show up to a supportive environment and work hard to go fast. Whether it’s the hype before a race, the accomplishment of finishing a workout, the thrill of winning, the constant support of teammates, or anything else, everyone has their own answer to what defines a rower.

I approach this topic with six seasons of rowing behind me, so I know the commitment it takes just to be on the team. The answer comes to me rowing on a crisp and sunny spring afternoon, gliding down the river in a boat full of the most hardworking and supportive people I know — rowers.

Rane explained, “We’ve invested four years into this physically, emotionally, and mentally enduring sport. We are dedicated to the sport and driven by passion.”