Women's Rowing: Experiencing the Elements
by Amy Mulligan, Assistant Media Relations Director
The following is a practice update on the No. 3 ranked Virginia rowing team as it prepares for its first home regatta of the spring season. The Cavaliers host Michigan State, Oregon State and Wisconsin Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13 at Lake Monticello.
Pulling into the parking lot of the Thomas Temple Allan Boathouse, it’s apparent this won’t be a typical practice day for the rowing team. I was looking forward to typical images of blue skies and picturesque views from the banks of the Rivanna Reservoir, but the weather did not cooperate on this particular Friday afternoon.
I first met with novices coach Sarah Cannon, along with her Rottweiler Ginger, and she set me up with what can only be described as a waterproof snow parka. Since it was steadily raining and about 40 degrees, I would need to put on the suit to get ready for a few hours out on the water.
Head coach Kevin Sauer arrived a few minutes later and headed upstairs to oversee his squad doing ergo meter workouts. Associate head coach Steve Pritzker had already headed out on the water with the two Varsity Four boats (four rowers and a coxswain) while Cannon had a group of novices (true freshmen or someone who has not rowed competitively prior to college). Sauer, meanwhile, was preparing to take out the two Varsity Eight boats for what he described as some speed work in preparation for the weekend meet at Ohio State.
The 35 minute warm-up’ on the rowing machines tired me out and I was only watching. Sauer worked the room as he does most things; with a ton of energy and instruction. While Kid Rock’s Cowboy’ blared from the speakers, the women intensely worked on technique and repetition. After the workout, the team filtered out of the room to put the boats in the water.
As the ladies worked together to carry oars and the boats down the hill to the dock, I struggled with my suit but finally got it on along with gloves, a hooded sweatshirt and a hat. To a friendly yell of “AMY!!!!” from Coach Sauer, I raced down the hill as the boats launched and took a seat next to Coach in the powerboat.
Coach Sauer spent some time on his megaphone, communicating what he wanted the boats to work on. On this particular day, the Varsity Eight boats worked on their starts and the first five strokes of the race.
“Your start is a state of mind,” Coach Sauer commented from our boat alongside the teams. “You start a race from a dead stop, and you can’t see where you are going.”
Coxswains Caitlin Mixter and Mary Eddy prepped their crews and shouted the rhythmic instructions for beginning a race.
Once or twice more up and down the reservoir, the boats practiced their strokes. Meanwhile, I was soaked to the bone and freezing but remembered constantly that they were out there in spandex pants and light jackets. While they shivered in between drills and while resting, the ladies were all concentration when it was time to row.
Every once in a while, the Varsity Four and Novice boats would pass by on the other side of the buoys, working on similar drills. Practice on this day was a mixture of quick starts and the first few strokes and lengthened times of rowing. Once back through the bridge to the boathouse, Coach Sauer let the teams know they would be out another 15 minutes or so.
It was a great practice and the team called it a night at around 6 p.m. The crews were departing for Ohio State at 6 a.m. the next morning, and the ladies wearily put their equipment away and left the boathouse to make last-minute preparations or just relax at home.
It was a fun day out on the water, despite the weather, and I definitely have a new appreciation for the work ethic and discipline of these particular student-athletes.