Jayhawk Insider: Learning to Row
By: Jordan Cronan
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Coxswain. Stroke. Bow. Stern. Port. For most, these words don’t mean anything, but for a select few, it is a way of life. The hardworking and dedicated student-athletes of Kansas rowing love getting the opportunity to showcase and educate others on their unique sport.
The Jayhawks got that opportunity this past weekend at a Learn to Row event hosted by Kansas and Lawrence Park and Recreation. Learn to Row is when members of the Lawrence community came out to the Kansas River early on a Saturday morning to try their hand at the unfamiliar sport.
“It was great to have a mix of community members who have no connection with our team and family members of our student-athletes that got to experience what their daughters or sisters do on a regular basis,” head coach Carrie Cook-Callen said.
The student-athletes welcomed all the participants into their boathouse and sat each one down on an ergometer, a mechanical rowing machine, to start on the basics. The Jayhawks began to walk through and instruct the new rowers on the motion that, to them, has since become muscle memory.
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“I have never been great at putting it into words because it’s so much easier showing you,” sophomore rower Taylor Brown said. “I must not have done too bad of a job because my boat got second in the race at the end of the day.”
Looking out over the Kansas River, not trying to perfect the proper rowing technique, but just trying to get somewhat comfortable, those rowing for the very first time quickly began to realize that this was going to be more difficult than expected.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be as tough as it was and I really under estimated all that goes into it,” Learn to Row participant Mitch Kottas said. “I definitely found a new appreciation for rowing today.”
After spending some time on the ergs and getting some helpful hints from the student-athletes who have spent countless hours on these very machines, it was time to go downstairs and move onto the next part of the training: the swingulator.
The swingulator gave all the participants the closest feeling to being on the water before actually getting in a boat. The novice rowers were given the opportunity to finally sit side-by-side the experienced rowers and received final instructions from members of the coaching staff before hitting the water.
Finally, the moment everyone had been waiting for, it was time to launch from the docks. Nerves started to set in while walking down the ramp to the high flowing Kansas River. Four participants got in each boat with four student-athletes and a coxswain, who would be the coaches out on the water.
“Instructing people who had never rowed before was like going all the way back to the basics, but I had to go even further,” junior coxswain Riley Varuska said. “I had to think of new and different ways to explain things that I have never had to use before.”
Starting off slow, all boats began rowing with just two at a time to get a feel for the water and to take everything learned on the ergs, then on the swingulator and actually being able to apply it as a team like the Jayhawks do everyday.
Much of the time spent on the water was working more and more on rowing together as a team and as one singular unit, rather than rowing as eight individuals. Rowing is the ultimate team sport in that one missing part can be the difference between first and last.
“We’ve spent much of the early preparation this year on just working together as a team and building that trust,” Brown said.
Nearing the end of the time on the water, the moment that everyone had been waiting for had finally come: racing for bragging rights. All the boats lined up together to see what could come from just two hours of training.
“I thought it was going to be all over the place and crazy, but I was really impressed and our boat was actually pretty good,” sophomore rower Laurel Salisbury said. “I couldn’t see behind me because I was in the second seat, but it felt really good like I had my team behind me at some point.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be the complete Jayhawk experience without the alma mater and rock chalk chant. Participants, student-athletes and coaching staff all circled together as one team to close out a successful day on the water like only Jayhawks could do.
— Kansas Rowing (@KU_Rowing) September 8, 2018
Catch the Jayhawks back on the Kansas River and come out to the boathouse music, food and to watch Kansas compete against teams from all across the region in the sixth annual Jayhawk Jamboree Sunday, Oct. 21.
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