Gagner follows her word

Kent Erdahl

After the 2001 spring season, Minnesota rowing coach Wendy Davis delegated then-novice rower Jackie Gagner to write an end of season reflection in the team’s newsletter that goes out to alumni and boosters.

In the reflection, Davis said novices usually wrote about the tough training and camaraderie they developed in rowing.

With this in mind, Davis was surprised to read one of Gagner’s closing statements, which read in part:

“The thing I love about being on the starting line is imagining ripping the arms off my competition.”

Davis laughed as she recalled her immediate reaction.

“I’m thinking, ‘A: I’m really glad she’s on my team, but B: We’re not going to use this in the newsletter,’ ” Davis said.

Published or not, Davis is still glad Gagner is on her team. Through four seasons, Gagner has used her aggressive mentality to become the stroke of the first Varsity Eight and earn second team All-Big Ten honors in her final year.

Not exactly a monster

Despite the comments that left an impression on her coach, Gagner has no intention of actually assaulting her competition.

“Coach always brings up (the comment), but I don’t even remember writing it,” Gagner said with a smile. “The novices definitely had our expressions to help us get motivated.”

Melissa Roche, Gagner’s teammate since their novice season, recalls yelling back and forth early in their career. But she said they learned quickly from their immaturity.

For Gagner, that meant internalizing her aggression while remaining soft-spoken with her teammates.

Although Gagner now paces the boat as the stroke, Roche said she is not overly demanding or aggressive with her teammates.

“She definitely keeps it quiet, but she doesn’t need to speak much because she’s got a lot of trust and respect on the team,” Roche said. “I feel like my job in the boat is to protect Jackie from what is going on behind her.”

Roche might help keep the rest of the team following their stroke, but Gagner’s personal effort and hard training definitely keeps the boat following her lead.

“Whether you’re going 50, 75 or 100 percent you have to make sure you’re hitting that level of aggressiveness,” Gagner said. “It’s something I try to make sure I’m doing every day in practice.”

A new fit

Gagner competed in volleyball, basketball and softball during high school. Although she enjoyed playing, she did not compete in the fall of her freshman year.

By the end of the semester, Gagner said she missed the competition and was bored with working out on her own so she turned to a new sport.

“In high school I was very aggressive in the sports I played, and rowing was getting at even more of that,” Gagner said. “In a way that attracted me even more to it.”

Despite her enthusiasm, Gagner said rowing was a difficult transition both physically and mentally because it tested her fitness and conditioning more than ever.

Although it was tough, Gagner just started working harder at practices and bringing tenacity to her training that still impresses her coach.

“If you back off 1 percent, nobody is going to know but you, but Jackie never backs off.” Davis said. “She comes at it like a lion that’s been let out of her cage.”

A life of competition

Gagner will continue to row as stroke for the Gophers through the end of the season, but she does not look to end her love for competition with the last race.

She has already graduated with a French studies major and a coaching minor. She is now pursuing kinesiology in hopes of becoming an athletics director and/or coach.

Gagner said her career choice stems from her love for sports and what they can do for people.

She added that she will definitely keep coaching and aspiring to lead others. But she is not so sure about passing on her famous line about tearing limbs.

“Hopefully, I won’t have to go to that extreme,” Gagner said. “But if they need to be more aggressive I just might.”