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Gophers rowing, not for the faint of heart

College rowing requires an intense amount of physical and mental strength that often goes overlooked.
Image by Daye Stager
The University of Minnesota Women’s Rowing Team hones their rowing technique on the Mississippi.

At 7 a.m., most college students are sound asleep catching up on Z’s they did not get after the previous evening’s studying. But, for the Gophers rowing team, practice is about to start.

Being a college student is hard enough, but being a college student on the rowing team is another challenge entirely. The varsity rowing team arrives at the Irene Claudia Kroll Boathouse for their two-hour practice on the water before the start of their classes.

Rowing at the collegiate level is much more than spending mornings on the water. Head coach Alicea Strodel said athletes must be in prime physical condition to move all the mass that comes with rowing.

“There is just some raw power that is necessary due to the boat having drag and the actual weight of the boat,” Strodel said.

The team maintains an intense training schedule involving both easy and hard days on the water, challenging not only their physical condition but also their mentality.

“Our hard days are hard. Our women will say they’re like an eight to nine out of 10,” Strodel said. “The easy days are not as physically challenging, but can be mentally challenging if we’re working on skilled work.”

When out on the water, the athletes are heavily concentrated on working together to synchronize each stroke and move the boat as one unit. 

With 40 athletes on the varsity team, developing a team dynamic is critical for the athletes to perform well together in the boat. 

Senior Grace Loescher said it can be frustrating to see a boat pass ahead, but at the end of the day, the team shares the common goal of becoming better rowers.

“We’re all rooting for each other rather than getting too focused on personal experience,” Loescher said.

The team runs together, carries out boats together and packs them away together. Loescher said the team will also change up who is in the boats so athletes can get an idea of what it’s like to row with different people.

Even though rowing is a seasonal sport that happens in the fall and spring, like many other DI programs, practice is not limited by the season. When it gets too cold to be out on the water, athletes will train indoors in a tank.

The tank has seats that move as if you’re in a boat, which sit in a pool that acts like an infinity pool. It allows athletes to hold an oar and gives them the feeling as if they’re rowing a real boat.

Aside from that, Strodel said the team utilizes rowing machines, bikes and their weight room in the Bierman Athletic Building.

In addition to the more standard offseason training one would see with weights, graduate student Meg Messer said the team sometimes runs stairs at 3M Arena at Mariucci, which allows the team to connect.

“The winter sucks, but it’s a lot of fun as a team to be able to push each other,” Messer said.

The University of Minnesota has access to the Mississippi River right in the backyard of its boathouse. Views of sandstone caves, man-made art and Pennywise the Clown are scattered along the route.

Image by Alex Karwowski

Loescher said the team has dealt with snow, rain and heat during practices. She added learning to battle these conditions well gives them an edge over their competitors.

“We get to come in with this energy and grittiness that [competitors] don’t really have to have defined being in like maybe a nicer climate,” Loescher said. 

Last season, the Gophers finished seventh out of eight at the Big Ten championships. Messer said the team is hoping to capitalize on their performance last season and finish in the top half of the conference. 

“We’d love to get a medal, but we really want to improve on last year,” Messer said. “Getting all boats across the line. Top half would be great.”

Strodel said the team had spent the early parts of the fall focusing on certain parts of their rowing strokes. 

Wednesday and Friday practices are the team’s hard days and involve recording data that is used to create intrasquad competition.

“We’ll send multiple boats out, we’ll switch people around, we’ll see what changes, who’s making it go faster and what that looks like,” Strodel said.

All of the data collection for setting lineups begins upstairs in the boathouse on the rowing machine.

“We use that a lot just for power output and understanding somebody’s physical capacity,” Strodel said.

Athletes will then go out on the water where Strodel figures out the technical component. 

“We want to have the most fit, aggressive, people in the boats,” Strodel said.

One of the biggest challenges for freshman Emily Franke is adjusting to the rowing style. She said she used to row with only one or two people in the boat, so eight was a big transition.

“I’m not used to having to follow anyone really,” Franke said. “It’s a lot of different moving parts.”

The Gophers will take to the water in their first tournament of the season on a river very familiar to them at the 43rd Annual Head of the Mississippi Regatta on Oct. 7.

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