Jayhawk Insider: Road to the leader board

The day started how any other would for junior rower Reese Arnold. It was the day of a 2K race on the ergs, a race that tests the rowers as they compete against their teammates to see how far they can push themselves without actually being on the water.

The record held for the fastest time on the ergs was held by Claudijah Lever, who broke it in May of 2015.

The record had been standing for almost four years and Lever is known as a legend around the boathouse.  Breaking Lever’s record would ensure that any rowers name would be cemented right there alongside her.

While breaking the record was obviously on her mind, Arnold didn’t dwell on what the possible outcome of her race would be. In fact, she felt an odd sense of calm all day leading up to the race.

“I felt super weirdly calm all day,” said Arnold. “I wasn’t really thinking about it, I wasn’t really stressing about it. I knew that the goal that Charley (Sullivan) had set for me would only get me fourth (on the 2K board). It wasn’t sub-seven and so I was like ‘You know, if I hit it, I hit it, but if not, then I don’t, it’s fine’. I really didn’t think about it too much at all and then, as we got closer, I was just feeling really good and warm-up felt really good. I was just not dwelling or thinking about it too much.”

That day, not only did she place her name on the board, but she broke Lever’s record to become the fastest rower in the history of the program. Once she finished the race, Arnold was both exhausted and elated.

"(I felt) Disbelief, complete, utter exhaustion and complete, utter excitement at the same time, I just remember lying down and I couldn't feel my feet. My eyes were closed and I just remember being like, 'Wow, I really just did that. This is real'. I could not believe it. I was so excited."

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Let’s rewind.

Before Arnold became the fastest rower to ever come through the University of Kansas, there was a time where rowing was her second option, following soccer.

Arnold considered herself a soccer player and prioritized that sport over any other. That is until her junior year of high school, when the sport that was once an afterthought in her mind became a serious passion.

“When I lived in Edmond, Oklahoma, my mom actually started rowing in an adult league and ever since then, she wanted me to do it, but I was always like ‘No, I don’t want to do that,’ because I played soccer and it was the same season,” said Arnold. “Sophomore year, I ended up deciding that I didn’t want to do soccer anymore, so I decided to try rowing. I joined my high school rowing team in the spring and ever since then I’ve been rowing away.”

The aspect that she loves the most about the sport and what led to her wanting to continue on with it at the collegiate level was the toughness it takes to be a rower every single day.

“I just really liked the aspect of pushing yourself to your limits, trying to find your limit and pushing past it. I like always testing my ability to do my best,” said Arnold.

Lever can attest to Arnold’s determination to be the best rower that she can be. While she only briefly met Arnold, the junior left an impression on the veteran rower.

“I have only had one encounter with Reese when I decided to visit KU randomly one weekend in March,” said Lever. “She was motivated and determined during practice that day. I could tell from the energy in the room that someone was going to break my record soon. Although she was not the one projected to break my record, she stepped up and asked a couple questions about how I did it back in 2015. She was one of maybe five to do so. That showed a lot about her determination to be the best.”

Arnold has been racing in the top Varsity boats since she was a freshman. At the start of her career as a Jayhawk, she didn’t quite know what to expect, and had the same nerves that every college freshman goes through when thrust into a new environment.

“It was super intimidating,” said Arnold. “I got pulled up pretty soon, I think halfway through the fall season I was already in the Second Varsity Eight and I didn’t really know what was going on. I was just kind of the little freshman in the boat who didn’t know much. I knew rowing, but this whole world was so different.”

However, some first-year nerves weren’t going to stop Arnold from preforming and continually trying to be the best version of herself that she could be.

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“I just kept pushing myself every day to do the best and be the best,” said Arnold. “It was really hard because I had a hard time forming connections with girls in my own grade because I wasn’t rowing with them every day and then the girls that were older than me already had their friend groups, so I was kind of isolated until I started opening up and becoming more comfortable. Once that happened, I was in it and I just had to work really hard, especially as a freshman to prove myself and show that day-in and day-out, I do belong.”

Arnold went above and beyond to prove that she is right where she belongs, and there is nowhere else she would rather be.

“I kind of recruited myself,” said Arnold. “I reached out to Coach Carrie (Cook-Callen) and I filled out the student athlete questionnaire online and I was constantly the one contacting them and tell them that this was something that I wanted to do. I had no ties to Kansas, that’s just kind of how the cards fell.”

Arnold knew that she had what it takes to place her name on the leader board. It was just a matter of her mind pushing her body to its full potential.

“I think it means that your body is cable of so much if you let it, and you just have to convince your mind that you’re able to do it,” said Arnold.  “Something that I really learned over the course of my time here is that your mind might be telling you one thing, but your body can do so much more than you think you’re capable of. Training that belief and trusting in that every day is important. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Breaking Lever’s record was no easy feat. Arnold credits her perseverance and her work ethic during times that didn’t always seem easy as a crucial reason for her success.

“I think (breaking the record) means that I’m a fighter, I’ve battled injury, I’ve been in low spots and it has taken a lot of resources from the coaches and the athletic trainers to keep me healthy. Honestly, a lot of perseverance on my end not to just give in to injury. I think that just knowing regardless of injury or circumstance, you still have to come in every day, and you still have to give it your best, regardless of what’s going on.”

Holding the new record for the fastest 2K time recorded on the erg represents something so much bigger than just one person’s success; it symbolizes the current success of the rowing program and, hopefully, sets the program up for even more success in the future.

"I guess that (holding the new record) means that I am now in the position of girls looking up to me and striving to beat my record and match me," said Arnold. "I want them to do that. I want this program to be the best that it can be. Obviously, having the school record is amazing and so exciting. I think Claudi said the same thing, I want it to be broken. I want people to break it because that just means that things are going in the right direction for this program and we're just getting faster and faster. It's great that I have it, but I want someone else to break it."

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As for Lever, she couldn’t have been more excited to hear the news that Arnold had broken her record.

“I was very excited (for her),” said Lever. “All I could say was about time. It had been over a couple of years since (the record was broken) and I was anxious to see who and when someone would break the record. I’m very proud of her!”

Lever thinks that Arnold breaking her record is only the first sign that this program is on the rise.

“Great things are yet to come,” said Lever. “KU’s rowing coaches have established a really great system for current and future rowers. I can tell that overall they are in better shape, statistically smarter about the sport and the energy given off is amazing.”

Arnold is still just a junior, which means there is plenty of time for her to get even better, and maybe break her own record. She fully intends to try and break the record again.

“It is going to take everything that I have because I poured it all out the first time. Hopefully I’ll have even more next time,” said Arnold.

Arnold’s feat on the record board isn’t the first this season. A total of five Jayhawks have landed on either the 2K or 5K erg leader board throughout 2019. It’s a sign of fast times ahead for Kansas rowing.