They may not have the nicest equipment in the world. They may not have the best technical training in the world. Yet the Lawrence University rowing team is seeing their hard work start to pay off in races. In the last few weeks, both the women’s novice and women’s varsity boats have won regattas. The men, though they have not won, have been very competitive. Lawrence’s program is quickly becoming a notable force in the Midwest.This transition to becoming a successful team is because of the dedication of the members. “Rowing is the ultimate team sport,” says Karen Nordell, the temporary coach of the rowing team. “You are only as fast as the slowest person in the boat.”
The team has put hours upon hours of work into improving themselves. Since rowing is not a recognized varsity sport, it does not receive the funding that the softball team receives, for example. The team members have to fix all equipment problems, even taking parts off of other boats to make sure that the one they are currently using is operational. The team is in charge of maintaining their boats before and after use. They have no equipment managers, only an executive board.
“The executive board of the rowing team makes a double commitment. They are all standout athletes and are the ones who end up coaching many of the novices,” Nordell said. The executive board is often the most knowledgeable about equipment as well. They end up making most of the quick fixes, and major equipment repairs that allow the boats to be on the water.
When the boats do get on the water, the team aspect remains. Rowing is a team sport. There are no individuals who can aid the team by themselves. If the whole team is not in unison, then the team suffers. The coxswain is the one person who can have the most effect on the boat. The coxswain is the person who sits in the bow of the boat and is in charge of steering the boat. He or she is also in charge of calling out the strokes for the rowers. But, as Nordell says, “We stress the team aspect. There is no one more important then the team itself.”
The Lawrence rowing team has many strengths that aid it in competing well in regattas. The dedication to the team is enormous. Team members practice before sunrise most mornings and sometimes come back in the afternoon for more practice. Another strength is the competitiveness of the rowers on the team. For a school the size of Lawrence, determination is important to overcome the lack of people. By defeating teams from schools such as Northwestern and the University of Chicago, the Viking rowers build up confidence. One more strength for the Vikings is their facilities. The rowing team shares a boathouse with the Fox Valley Rowing Club in Telulah Park. The area on the Fox River where the teams practice is mostly sheltered from the wind and is ideal for the needs of both novice and varsity rowers. It is also of equal or better quality to the practice areas of other schools in the country.
There are weaknesses that Lawrence has to overcome, though. One major weakness is the lack of a permanent coach. Nordell is serving as the temporary coach for this year, but the team is searching for a coach who can make a fulltime commitment. Nordell is also a chemistry professor at Lawrence. “If the team had the consistency of a head coach, one who could help with all the small things that the rowers need, then I think we could improve greatly,” Nordell said.
One other weakness that is prevalent is the lack of depth. This hurts most every sport at Lawrence, but is even more evident on a smaller team such as the rowing team. “Right now, we have enough rowers for boats of both four and eight on the women’s side, but we can only row with four people on the men’s side.” In collegiate rowing, there are either four people to a boat or eight people.
The Vikings are getting ready to compete at two major regattas in the coming weeks. On April 27, the Midwest Rowing Championships will be held in Madison, Wisconsin. Then two weeks later on May 11 and 12, the Dad Vail regatta is being held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Dad Vail is the largest regatta in the country and will have many small colleges represented. “Our goal is to break into the finals at these two regattas, it will be hard, but if we row our best we can do it,” Nordell said.
In rowing, there are two periods of racing. In the morning, there are several preliminary heats to see who will advance to the finals in the afternoon. The races consist of sprints of 2000 meters, which generally take seven to nine minutes to complete.
The Lawrence rowing team is always looking for new members to join. They are a team that has bonded well together and is always looking to gain a new member to envelop into the community. Coach Nordell encourages anyone interested to give her a call and to come watch the team practice. With even more members, the team can only improve. The future looks bright for these rowers.