Rowing boosted by its novice program
July 6, 2010
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Meg George knew about rowing, because she saw a picture of it once, in the back of a magazine. She didn’t actually dream herself to be a rower, though.
And yet, flash forward a few years, and here’s George -- a UT graduate who was just invited to train this summer at the Oklahoma City US Rowing High Performance Center in their Women’s Development Camp. George’s transition was an elaborate one, but certainly not atypical.
Four years ago, she was a new student at The University of Texas, and, after having been a competitive swimmer all her life, was looking for a new sport. She saw some flyers around campus about the rowing team holding walk-on tryouts, and so George came to a meeting.
“I’ve been rowing ever since,” says George, a 6-foot-3 port from Houston.
Rowing is a sport for tall, fit young women who thrive on hustle and hard work. It’s not uncommon for student-athletes to pick up the sport during their freshman year of college. In fact, at the 2008 Olympics, four former college walk-ons were members of the USA gold medalist 8+ boat.
When UT raced at the 2004 NCAA Championships, six of the team’s top rowers started as walk-ons.
“Teams really end up depending on girls who walk on,” George says.
And that starts at Texas on the novice squad, guided by assistant coach Caroline King. The fall season is devoted to turning athletes into rowers. There are endurance workouts, marathon sessions on the erg machines and, of course, the process of learning how to row.
“Learning rowing is the fun part,” says graduated senior Colleen Irby, who was a softball player at Austin Westwood before walking on to the rowing team. “You’re out there on the water with your teammates in the afternoon. It’s beautiful, and you’re learning something new.
“You fuel off your love for sport, and your drive.”
Novices will spend the spring season then learning to race, and last November got an early taste of what that will feel like. The Longhorns hosted their first annual “Bevo Cup,” which combined varsity and novice rowers in one boat, and they competed in a typical sprint format on Lady Bird Lake.
“Racing is what makes people come back,” George says. “It’s fast and furious, and so much fun.”
Before the winning boats of the three heats took off in the finals, Nancy Arrington predicted the “Dawn Trader” would be the victorious boat, because novice coxswain Katie Sayre already had a deft swagger.
“She just scares people into winning,” Arrington says.
Sure enough, the “Dawn Trader” was victorious, which resulted in Sayre getting tossed into the water by her crew -- a traditional rowing celebration.
“To be able to win with varsity teammates is pretty empowering,” King says. “For the novices, we definitely tap into their competiveness, and just their desire to work.
“They get out there, and even if it’s not the prettiest stroke, you can always work hard.”
Sally Tunell is another varsity rower who started at UT as a walk-on. Under King, she learned the nuance of a new sport, and even now as an outgoing senior, Tunell is grateful for King.
“Caroline is definitely one of my favorite mentors. She knows how to motivate, and how to teach us to compete,” says Tunell, who graduated in May with a sociology degree. “She’s an excellent segue-way into the program.
“I’ve grown up on teams my whole life, and I knew that was something I was going to miss in college. When I saw I had this kind of opportunity, I knew I wanted to seize it.”
Tunell -- like so many others -- did seize the opportunity, and after coming to UT as a student, she left as a varsity student-athlete.
“We have Texas walk-ons, who probably if they weren’t rowing, would probably just be around mostly Texans. But because they’re on our rowing team, they get to know people from New Zealand, Great Britain, Croatia and a lot of Canadians,” UT head coach Carie Graves says. “They have not just a great experience rowing, but they diversify their experience at UT by getting to know other cultures. I really like that part about our team.”
Those interested in walking on to the UT Rowing team are invited to attend the informational meeting on Wednesday, Sep. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Centennial Room (9th Floor, Bellmont Hall)