Monday through Friday for the past four years, our niece Kelsey was at the University of Wisconsin’s boathouse on Lake Mendota by 6:15 a.m. for what was usually a two-hour practice before she attended her daily college classes. Her second practice of the day took place at 4 p.m. and ran for another hour and a half. On Saturdays she got to “sleep in” and didn’t need to be there until 7 a.m. Forget about Christmas and Spring Breaks… following a few days home with her family, she was packing up and flying out to someplace where the water wasn’t iced over and the team could continue their training, for this pretty-much-year-’round sport. I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t what my college schedule looked like… rising every morning before 6 o’clock?!? Needing to be someplace by 7 o’clock on Saturday mornings?!?! I think not!! And Spring Break — hello Cocoa Beach, but not for six hours of always intense and often painful workouts!!!
But for Kelsey and her teammates, this was their routine. For the 16 seniors on the team, it’s been four years of this. Rowing is an endurance sport more than a skills sport. Don’t misunderstand, technique is absolutely required. Rowers must keep their bodies vertically still while moving them horizontally with as much speed and power as they can, and, no doubt, that takes hours, nay years, to perfect. Kelsey has described the agony of rowing to me like this, “It’s like doing leg presses at your maximum weight for the duration of the race.” Depending on the race distance – 6k meters in the fall and 2k meters in the spring – that can be leg pressing for 7 minutes or 22 minutes at max effort. As endurance is the name of the game, they can never really take a break from practicing.
The entire Wisconsin rowing team has endured sweltering hot practices in the sun as well as long, cold ones in the near-freezing air and water, both with aching muscles, sore backs, legs on fire, calluses on top of calluses on their hands, and many more discomforts that were eased by ice baths (me, I’d rather take the pain!), staying off their feet, and lots of sleep as the workouts and levels of fitness required to compete in rowing at this level is staggering!
But alas, all of this came to an end this past weekend as Kelsey and her teammates competed in the the NCAA National Rowing Championships. Rowers from all over the nation – Yale, Princeton, Brown, Ohio State, Indiana, Navy, Cal, Stanford, Washington and many others with great rowing traditions – pushed themselves to their physical limits for the last time in their collegiate careers. Races were held for two sets of eight boats – Varsity I and Varsity II – and one Varsity Four. For a handful of teams, their best resulted in a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place NCAA Championship trophy. For all the rest, their best placed them 4th through 20th in their respective division and boat class. No matter which place they took, each of the ladies in all of the boats persevered with great toughness and proudly represented their schools in the country’s top contest. Wisconsin’s efforts got them 9th, 13th, and 16th for an overall 13th place ranking in the nation. Way to go Wisco!!!
From a walk-on freshman who had never touched an oar to a scholarship athlete by her senior year, Kelsey gave her whole family an amazing four years. We all learned more about the sport of rowing, watched her proudly put on muscle mass, got excited with her as she pushed herself to new limits, coached her through some of the bumps, and showed up at her races cheering loudly. While Kelsey looks ahead to a bright future filled with big plans and dreams, she will always carry this experience with her in her heart, and her life is infinitely better and richer having been a part of this team that is larger than herself.
A huge thank you goes out to Kelsey’s teammates, coaches and all of the support crew who helped develop our gal during her four years as a UW student athlete. And to Kelsey, we are all immensely proud of you – you represent yourself and your family very well! xo