Crew its own tightly knit community
By Linda Freeman
CORRESPONDENT | February 10,2013
The crew team (from right to left) of Elizabeth Christmas, Felicia Fowler, Sarah Mead and Kassie Field take part in the 2012 Head of the Charles in Boston.
If you have a high school junior in your house, chances are that, if you have not done so already, you are about to begin your tour of colleges. This can be a stressful time or it can be a happy memory of the childrearing chapter of your life. It may be one of the few times that you have to share one-on-one with your child/adult who is about to test the waters of independence and get on with living, a time when your offspring is internally hesitant and needs you while externally confident and eager to fly.
I remember touring the first of several dream-worthy schools with my daughter. As soon as her guide discovered that she was a Nordic skier, the guide immediately and enthusiastically suggested that my daughter join the crew team. Her rationale was simple, even though my daughter knew nothing about crew, it was explained that anyone who goes out for crew is somewhat crazy. Who else but members of the crew team or the cross-country ski team would be willing to commit to a training schedule that mandates early mornings and a small, but tightly knit community?
Felicia Fowler, 21 of Barre, had a similar experience when she arrived at the University of New Hampshire.
“I didn’t know what crew was,” Fowler said. “I didn’t know what a shell was.”
Encouraged by others to explore the sport during summer orientation, Fowler said: “I went to the meeting and I never left.”
Rowing as a racing sport has a long history. As early as the 1400s BC there is reference to “oarsmanship.” Over the centuries boats, teams and techniques have evolved into what, today, can be divided into two categories: sweep (each member of the team powers one oar with both hands) and sculling (each rower manages one oar in each hand). Reportedly collegiate competition dates back to the first Harvard-Yale Regatta in 1852, an event that continues.
Fowler’s UNH crew experience began at the end of her first August on campus.
“I went to an informational session about the team and learned what to expect: the season, commitment, schedule, time management and how to push yourself mentally,” she said. Each season, a large group of freshman begin the process. Eventually, through a combination of attrition or dedication, a few rowers continue on to their second, third or fourth year as varsity team members.
“The program is built for anyone to join,” Fowler said. “You don’t need to go in with skills. You will be trained. But, you must have commitment and the mental aspect to know that you can do it, the will to do something.”
Commitment may be the operative word. “I don’t really know much else,” Fowler said of her semesters at UNH. “It’s the niche I found. It’s normal to me to wake up at 4:30 a.m., go practice, then be ready for my classes and my day.”
Once a team member, you have a place, an identity. You learn to fully integrate with your team, “working together as one boat, anticipating each others movements.”
Rowers train throughout the year to build strength, core stability, aerobic capacity and skills.
“The coaches’ philosophy,” Fowler said, is “if you put the work in, the time in, you deserve to be in a boat.”
Watching the teams on the water is a beautiful sight. Rowers face the back and the tiny coxswain, facing forward, keeps her eyes on the course and calls to her team to coach and motivate them as they skim the surface and power ahead.
The team at UNH is an intercollegiate club team with plenty of opportunity for all to compete. “Whether it’s club or D3, we train as hard,” Fowler said. “If anything we feel more accomplished when we cross that finish line before a D3 team.”
Spending hours on conditioning and rowing power, bonding with teammates and traveling to train and compete does not diminish academic achievement. Fowler should know. She is a senior and in her fourth year of crew. Moreover, she is, for the second year, a team captain with the added responsibilities of guiding, supporting and representing her team. “Studies are not compromised,” Fowler said, “they are enhanced. We develop better time management and independent study ability.”
During her UNH seasons, Fowler will have competed against schools such as Williams, Wellesley, Trinity, Bates and Colby. She will have experienced time and again the post-race high that comes from a solid effort. She will have made memories at her favorite end-of-season event, the Club Nationals held for the past few years in Georgia. The training, the travel, the goals, disappointments, demands, victories, camaraderie, discipline and sweat combine to define an experience that is difficult to reproduce post graduation.
Though Fowler encourages students to seek this experience, she also, as one who has been an effective captain, urges everyone to restructure a dream to make it a reality in whatever daily life one leads.
“If you want to try something new,” Fowler said, “whether you’re a freshman in college or a senior citizen, get out there and do it. The only way you’ll know is if you give it a fair chance with an open mind. Change your normal, boring routine of getting on the elliptical for a half hour and find your niche. It may be hard or hurt a little at first, but stick with it and the outcome (especially after a spring racing season) will be far greater than you could imagine.” Fowler did. “It has led me to push my abilities, both mentally and physically, in more ways than I would have ever imagined.”
So can you.