by Sparks editorial staff
As a senior in high school, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed my National Letter of Intent. The transition from high school rowing to college rowing was definitely no walk in the park. College rowing was a means to an end for this 110lb, Hoosier with big dreams and a loud voice. I was fortunate enough to receive a partial-scholarship to be a coxswain on a Midwest team that felt like a family.
After four years of high school rowing, I did not know what to expect at the next level. I imagined college rowing as a glorified version of high school rowing, except with better equipment, personalized gear, and free travel across the country. I was oblivious to the reality, but then again, most freshmen are. My freshman year experience as a coxswain is different from the typical freshman rower, especially in terms of training intensity. However, we face many of the same challenges.
In high school, we went to school at 7:15am and left at 2:30pm. We spent two hours at rowing practice after school. After practice, we went home to do homework (or at least, we were supposed to) while mom made dinner. We repeated the “eat, sleep, school, row, repeat” cycle every week.
In college, you schedule your life in minutes. Depending on the courses, 18 hours per week of class is usually a heavy load, and 12 hours per week is the required minimum. Next, add the hours spent outside the classroom: eight hours of required study hall, two hours for tutors, an hour for advisor meetings, weights twice a week, a couple hours for Netflix, homework hours, and don’t forget the 20 hours of countable training time per week. Traveling back and forth from the boathouse and receiving treatment in the training room are deemed non-countable hours, but they add up rapidly.
Waking up for practice is a challenge. You wake up at 4:00 am after staying up until 11pm writing a 10-page essay for your 8:00 am class. The practice bus leaves at 4:25am sharp (with or without you). You eat a power bar on the bus for fuel. After practice, you have less than five minutes to make it to your first class. If you forgot to pack your essay in your practice bag for class this morning, you’re screwed.
Welcome to the college-rowing grind where you will accomplish more before 8:00 than most students accomplish all day. Aside from being infinitely more demanding than your high school routine, the student-athlete routine also requires flexibility, because your training schedule changes without warning.
College athletics is a balancing act. It was difficult for me to manage my time, but I overcame these challenges by setting weekly goals for myself. Use the resources provided to you and understand that the routine will come more naturally with time.
As the only freshman coxswain on the team, I quickly discovered that all the other coxswains were significantly more experienced than me. I didn’t take directions well, my steering was less than mediocre, I messed up the drills, and my coaches were constantly yelling at me to pull my boat even. I had no idea the pressure was going to be so overwhelming.
I knew college rowing was going to be hard, but not this hard. I wanted to quit, but my teammates got me through it. Sophomore year, I decided that I was going to display an “always awesome attitude,” no matter what I was feeling. It sounds cheesy, but trust me. Attitudes are contagious in a team environment. Spreading a positive attitude creates a can-do environment for everyone on your team. Your coaches will notice, your teammates will want to have you in the boat, and you will achieve your goals with patience.
As an incoming freshman, what should you expect? Expect to feel overwhelmed. Expect to be tired, all the time. Expect to make individual sacrifices for the betterment of the team. College sports are not meant to be played by the faint at heart, but a strong love for the game and relentless attitude will provide you with the stamina you need to achieve your goals. Overall, embrace the unexpected, always maintain a positive attitude, and cling to the upperclassmen leaders on the team early on in your college career.