When students voluntarily wake up before the sun rises for a sport five days a week, something powerful is at work. Rowing is a varsity club sport, and it requires teammates to dedicate themselves to long practices and chilly mornings on the water, which brings the team together. After an entire winter of preparation, the rowing team is beginning to transition to their spring season, where the races get shorter and more intense.
The team has spent their winter vigorously preparing for the spring. “Winter practice is a lot more intense both physically and mentally,” Dorn commented. “On the water a lot of the focus is on rowing with good technique and staying in synchronization with the rest of the boat. We don’t have any races in the winter so it’s really about building up strength and endurance to make fast boats in the spring.”
The team meets Monday through Friday for two hours in the early morning. Though this may seem tough, as Dorn noted, “[i]t becomes easy to wake up at five in the morning when you know there are 20 other people just as crazy as you are.”
Practices vary throughout the week, ranging from cardio to work on the ergs (stationary rowing machines) and lifting. All these elements must come together in order for the team to be successful in races, and Walker knows how important this preparation is. “Rowing takes whole lot of time to build up the cardio, strength and technique to become fast on the water, and the winter is where you build the base for faster boats in the spring.”
These skills and strength building were put to the test on February 15. At the Crash B’s, one of the first sets of major races of 2013, seven members from the men’s and women’s teams participated in a series of races. Many rowers from around the world compete, including some hoping to make it to the Olympics. Team President and Men’s Captain senior Vincent Marchetta explained why the results of Crash B’s are tricky to interpret. “Given the number of people competing and the caliber of some of the competition…it’s difficult to define doing well at Crash B’s, but this year saw the largest number of Vassar rowers competing,” he continued. “Most beat or pulled close to their personal bests and it was great to see our team doing so well, especially those who had only a few months or just over a year of experience.” Marchetta beat his personal record and Walker also beat her own personal best time and placed 87th among her category of 189 women.
“It was extremely exciting to see the strong performances put on by my team members as well,” she remarked. “All my teammates who went really pulled their hearts out and got either their fastest time of the season or extremely close to it.”
Races in the spring are quite different from those of the fall season. Spring races are 2000 meters, as compared to the 5000 meter races in the fall, and teams race simultaneously instead of the individual time trials that take place in the first half of the season. According to Walker, “This makes it a much better spectator sport as you can see who is winning during the final sprint. This also makes it more fun to race in because you have boats right along next to you as visual markers of how much harder you have to push to push past them.”
While the spring sprint races are more physically intense, Walker appreciates this and is proud of how hard her team works. “The spring races are an amazing adrenaline rush. Eight minutes or less and you are done,” she noted. “But in those eight minutes you push yourself harder than you ever thought imaginable. I love to race, I know that you will get in what you take out and if we can beat another boat it is because we are working together.”
Dorn also noted that the side by side racing encourages greater competition. “The intensity is a lot higher and I think that’s what makes it more fun,” she remarked. “Pushing yourself to row even harder because you can see a boat right next to you, with the crowd cheering, and the coxswain yelling encouragement is an adrenaline rush you don’t get in the fall.”
Camaraderie is crucial to the events that push the team’s endurance. Walker understands what the sport requires from her teammates. “I have played various sports all my life but rowing was the first sport that showed me what true teamwork is all about,” she affirmed. “The feeling that one gets when everyone is synched up while rowing is like none other.”
Marchetta agreed, and appreciates the transcendent nature of rowing. “Being out on the beautiful Hudson River at sunrise, working your hardest and knowing that your teammates are there with you pushing just as hard, and then seeing how the boat soars across the water in response to this unified effort, is an indescribable feeling,” he commented. “In all of my years on the team, the members of Vassar Rowing have been more than just teammates.”
Over spring break the team will travel to South Carolina to practice on the water several times a day, as well as to compete in more races. Many rowers eagerly anticipate the trip, including Dorn. “We’ve done a lot of fundraising to be able to go,” she remarked. “Last year’s trip was when I really felt like I learned how to row well and it’s a lot of fun to spend that much time together as a team.”
With a set of races behind them and many more ahead of them, the rowing team is ready to put their hard work from the winter into practice. The close-knit group hopes to do well, but Dorn knows that that outcome is only one facet of being on the team. “The best part of being on the rowing team is how closely knit of a community the rowing world is,” she concluded. “I joined rowing initially mostly so I would have someone to motivate me to work out, but the reason I stayed was because I was part of an incredibly diverse and motivated group of people. I never expected to feel so included.”