The UGA Crew — the rowing team — is all fired up with nowhere to row.
For a sport that enjoys a competitive spring season, the recent draining of the lake at Fort Yargo — a longtime practice facility for the rowers — would be defeating to any other team.
Due to a construction project at the park, the lake is being kept at eight feet below full pool until April 15.
But the resourceful rowing team has increased workouts at Ramsey and even traveled to Lake Lanier to get in some time on the water. For beginners, lake time is especially important.
Ask any rower on the team and they will tell you the life skills they have learned from the physicality of their sport.
Success lies in mastering technique, balance, flexibility, athleticism, commitment and stamina, while the keys to winning a race rely on a triumvirate of rhythm, power and teamwork.
Unlike most sports, rowing never really stops. They have a fall season of slower-paced, long distance races and then kick it into high gear for a spring season full of fast, sprint-like races with boats crammed next to each other in the water.
Remaining conditioned year-round is a priority.
“I’ve been rowing for six years, nonstop, and it’s hard looking back on life without rowing,” said Alex Ward, senior and team captain. “Nothing feels better than racing. I’m very goal-oriented, so it’s awesome to have goals at the beginning of a season and then work towards them. Outside of rowing, when things get tough, you can work on that goal at the gym or on the water, and then on race day, you’re the first boat across the finish line.”
Because of the intense goals that drive the rowing team, rowers must learn to balance their time and commitment.
The team works out on the water three to four times a week, usually getting up at 5 a.m. for a practice and then again later in the afternoon. When they aren’t on the water, the team uses rowing machines at Ramsey.
“It takes a lot to run this team,” Ward said. “It’s a lot of time commitment and money commitment. Rowing is one of the hardest sports because our enemy is time. In the beginning, it will be tough physically, but rowing becomes a mental break for you that’s worth investing in.”
The UGA Crew — made up of around 30 rowers, two captains and multiple officers this year — has seen membership numbers as large as 100 in the past.
They have a history of doing well at their regattas and nationals, and the women’s team recently placed first in the Southeastern Regionals.
Because the men’s and women’s teams are smaller than usual, they are heavily recruiting to get their numbers back up.
The economy has taken a toll on the expensive sport, as has the time commitment for students.
But to the team, the benefits of rowing far outweigh the challenges. In fact, the challenges make rowing all the more exciting.
Just like their sport, it requires a balancing act to juggle practice and schoolwork.
Each rower has a special thing he loves about the sport.
“Through rowing, I’ve really learned that I’m a stronger person than I thought I could ever be,” said Lisa Smith, senior and team captain. “I think, ‘I’m crazy, why am I doing this? It’s so hard, this is going to hurt so bad and so much is riding on it.’ Then afterwards, the success and the high of it all, there is just such elation that it’s indescribable. I feel that choosing to row again and again, semester after semester, is like choosing to live a life of extremes.”
Those extremes, however, can be just as challenging. For any novice rower, the first two months can be the most painful.
The blisters are the worst, forming one on top of the other. After high school, rowers are advised against wearing gloves because they wear down the oar handles.
It is better to bandage their blisters and build up calluses that will get them through the season.
Each type of boat also presents its own challenges. Singles, pairs, fours and eights are all parts of the team’s competition style.
“Mentally, the eight is easier,” said Diana Orquiola, a sophomore rower. “I mean, it’s not easy at all, but you can’t give up when there are seven other people in that boat with you. Every little stroke matters.”
The combination of stamina and athleticism that rowing requires attracts certain types of people to the sport.
While intimidating to some, rowing forges bonds between the teammates as they rely on one another to win.
In team boats — especially in a four — the rowers come to know each other so well that they can feel the slightest shift in power or balance. Each team member must be in sync.
“I love the beauty and the intensity of the sport,” Orquiola said. “I also love the fact that this truly is a team sport. You can’t just have one fast person in the boat — it doesn’t work that way. Everyone has to put in the time and the effort to succeed, so there’s never a star player. Everyone in that boat deserves that medal when they win.”
As the spring season begins, novice and varsity rowers alike are preparing and practicing every day.
The novices, especially those completely new to rowing, have trained hard in a short amount of time and learned as much as they can from the varsity members.
A network of support, they encourage each other no matter what.
Freshman Cathy Marszalik is not only new to rowing, but sports in general.
She encourages anyone to join because in her short time with the sport, she has quickly found a home amongst her teammates.
“I think it’s the people,” Marszalik said. “I’ve never met so many people that are so determined and so focused on wanting to be the best that they can be.”