Feb. 8, 2013
Travis Feldhaus, Texas Media Relations
Coming together as a team in competition and in the weight room is second nature to members of UT Rowing, whose hard work paid off in the form of a Big 12 Championship last season. Thousands of strokes outdoors on the water and indoors on ergometers have a way of carving out championship performances.
But, with another challenging spring ahead of them, the Longhorns worked in a new wrinkle to their winter training. With an eye on developing teamwork and unity, UT Rowing hopped in a bus last month and went south to New Braunfels to navigate a ropes course.
“The ropes course put our student-athletes in situations where they needed to communicate and maintain good camaraderie to figure out how to get from one challenge to another,” UT head coach Carie Graves said. “They had to combine those things as a unit and think outside of the box. It was a very collaborative effort.”
Collaboration was the name of the game for a team usually divided into varsity and novice squads that work out at different times of day. The Saturday afternoon the team spent in harnesses and on tops of poles was planned with cohesion in mind.
“The members of the varsity and novice squads were doing different things, but they were doing them together as a team, which will have both varsity and novice rowers competing,” Graves explained.
Aside from collaborating to build unity and camaraderie, the ropes course served as a chance to confront challenges and overcome fears. Rowers are at home on the water, but a trek atop a 40-foot wooden pole can put any athlete out of his or her element.
“One of the most difficult things I was confronted with during the ropes course was overcoming the fear of heights,” said sophomore varsity co-captain Katie Trovato. “Having to stand on top of a 40-foot pole alone was a very different challenge than the obstacles that you face in a boat with eight other teammates. Having to confront and defeat that individual challenge was at first daunting, but having my teammates on the ground below me cheering me on definitely made it possible for me to overcome my fear and finish that course.”
As novice co-captain rower Laken Carleton can attest from having previously navigated a ropes course, UT Rowing used the exercise the right way, as the ropes course was intended – fears presented, challenges overcome.
“I had completed a ropes course in middle school and high school, but doing it with our rowing team was completely different,” Carleton said. “Everyone on this team is not only competitive, but the majority of the team is fearless, and you really saw that played out in New Braunfels. Rarely did you find someone who was not willing to try every single high ropes course available, and even if you did, they were easily persuaded to try it.”
Physical challenges presented themselves and complemented the mental tests to provide a comprehensive examination befitting of any athlete. Texas Rowing members sharpen themselves with anything from uphill sprints to land-based stroke work with ergometers to weight workouts on campus. The ropes course gave UT Rowing yet another venue to push itself.
“It was very different to experience an adrenaline rush climbing up a wooden pole compared to the first few strokes of a race,” Trovato said. “In a race, you know you have to keep pushing no matter what, and adrenaline can aid you in making it through the initial high strokes. But, despite having all that energy coursing through your body while climbing up these tiny hooks, it was very hard to keep climbing. Meeting that familiar feeling in a totally different setting gave me the opportunity to see just how far I could push myself.”
UT Rowing pushed itself individually and collectively, and the Longhorns figure to reap the benefits as they confront another challenging spring slate.
“We grew stronger as a team,” Carleton said. “We opened our eyes to the individual traits that were revealed in the obstacles. Now, not only do we feel comfortable to lean on each other, but we also feel comfortable enough to push each other to the limit. We know what our strengths are, and now we can attack our weaknesses and build upon them.”
The first building block comes this weekend in the form of the annual Fighting Nutria, a chance for UT Rowing to engage in friendly competition with its male counterparts from Texas Crew. Three months have elapsed since the Longhorns’ last competition, and with the start of the 2013 spring season, Graves is looking for the team building to manifest itself on the water this weekend.
“I’m looking for people to have a lot of fun,” Graves said. "It’s fun because they will all be on the same team, and it’s an important race for that purpose. It’s an acknowledgement of how hard the teams are working.”