9 a.m. on the dot. Your alarm blares and the clock blinks impatiently. It seems far too early to begin the day, but you grudgingly step out of bed. One group of SLU students has already been up for hours, about five to be exact, in order to be ready to leave campus by 4:45 a.m. for practice at 5:15. This group of morning people is better known as the club rowing team.
The club rowing team, founded in 2001, competes in both the fall from August until the middle of November, and again in the spring from spring break through the close of the semester. Each morning during these two seasons, team members practice before school on Creve Coeur Lake or in the Rec Center on the rowing machines. The team also travels to Florida to train over spring break.
After coming off a 2012 season characterized by growing pains from adding 30 new rowers, which effectively doubled the team, the team has higher expectations this year after gaining another year of experience. This year, the team is also transitioning from one coach to another, as current and founding coach Scott Allison is retiring and Cameron Carter is beginning to fulfill his duties.
“[Last season] we weren’t really sure what to do with everyone. It was definitely a year full of growing pains and some harsh realizations,” senior coxswain Allie Gutenkunst said. “This year is going a lot better. The coach we have had since the club was founded is trying to retire so we’re transitioning to a new coach, which is exciting. He has made a lot of positive changes and brings a new perspective to the team.”
Rowing has several different categories and variations that rowers can compete in. For example, boats can be single sex or mixed, and can contain eight rowers and a coxswain, four rowers and a coxswain, a pair of rowers or a single rower. There is also lightweight rowing, which is 160lbs for men and 130lbs for women. Additionally, there are two different types of rowing: skull and sweeping. In skull rowing, each rower has two oars, whereas in sweep rowing, each rower has only one.
During the fall season, races are longer distances at five and six kilometers and rowers are racing against the clock. In the spring, races are much shorter, and rowers race head-to-head against six other boats. Since all of these aspects can be confusing to learn, all first-year rowers compete in novice only events.
“The worst part about the sport is the learning curve. Unlike most sports, rowing takes time and a lot of patience to learn which can be really frustrating and turn people off. But once that light bulb goes on everything starts to fall into place,” Gutenkunst said.
Gutenkunst, the lone senior girl on the team, joined club rowing in her first semester of freshman year with no rowing experience. She rowed one semester, and has been a coxswain for the past three years. As a coxswain, Gutenkunst has many different roles, including steering the boat during races, running drills in practices, motivating the team, managing the equipment and being a general team leader.
“This position is a mix of team mom, without the mommy part if that makes sense, and drill sergeant- we demand respect and the rowers lay everything on the line for us every time we row. It’s all about mutual trust and respect. They have to trust that I will get them home safely and respect the decisions I make while on the water. I have to trust that they are doing their best and respect them as individuals,” Gutenkunst said.
So far this fall, the team has competed in one competition, called a regatta, in Rockford, Ill. on Oct. 13. The team competed in the Men’s Collegiate category where they placed 13th overall, the Men’s Lightweight category where they took sixth place, in the mixed gender category the two boats placed seventh and eighth, and in the Women’s Collegiate category where they placed 13th. All of these races had four rowers and a coxswain.
“The regatta went well; we raced a lot of good teams and the boats performed very close to expectations. But there is always room for improvement,” Gutenkunst said.
The team will compete in two more races this fall, and then resume competition again in the spring. While the early mornings may seem intimidating, Gutenkunst and other team members have found their niche on the team at SLU and are always encouraging more to join.
“The sport of rowing is amazing, it takes a lot of self sacrifice and motivation but the people on the team are what make the sport so wonderful. We’re a family; we look out for each other and push one another to that next level every time we train,” Gutenkunst said. “The sport, or art as some people say, of rowing is so beautiful. Eight individuals moving together, all fighting towards a common goal…I can’t even put it into words.”