I am writing you this letter to thank you for all you have done for my teammates and me over the years. In light of John Phillips’s article in The Daily Pennsylvanian (“For rowing, talent is hard to keep,” Jan. 30), I thought it was an appropriate time to recognize you and your colleagues in the Athletic Department who put so many thankless hours into making the student athletes at Penn better students, athletes and people.
Thank you for the opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania. When you took a chance on me, as you do with a new recruiting class of 18-year-old girls each year, you were saying that you thought I had what it took to succeed academically at a demanding school like Penn while dealing with the time constraints of competing in a Division I NCAA sport. While it took a few semesters to learn to juggle school, rowing, a job and social time, I had a built-in network of upperclassmen role models on the team to show me it could be done. Additionally, the time management, team-building and leadership skills I developed are something I still rely on and I have found them to be far more valuable than any increase my GPA would have gotten from quitting.
Thank you for helping me build character. That can be interpreted a lot of ways and it is a phrase that is used a lot on the team. I like to think of it as a combination of all of the qualities you instill in us: accountability, perseverance, commitment and hard work. Accountability is quickly learned after a 6 a.m. missed bus that causes your entire boat to do an indoor workout. Perseverance is continually not being in the top boat but showing up anyway to make the team faster any way you can. Commitment is doing your winter and summer break workouts and trusting that your teammates are doing the same because you are working towards the same goal. Hard work is hitting the wall and breaking through it with your teammates by your side. These lessons can be learned in many places but having them impressed upon you daily means they will never be lost.
Thank you for your dedication to fundraising. This is often overlooked, but it ensures that the team has everything it needs to compete. My freshman year — your first as head coach — the team hadn’t bought a new 8 shell in several years, putting the crew at a technological disadvantage. Through your championing, and the support of parents and alumni, there was a brand new Pocock 8 in the boathouse every year for the next three years and again in 2012, along with numerous small boats to fill out the fleet. When the time came for the program to raise money to renovate Hutch, our outdated erg and tank facility that paled in comparison to our competitors’, all three rowing teams were asked to divide the funding responsibilities evenly. The women’s team was able to exceed this goal due to parent buy-in and belief in your vision. The team is fully equipped to succeed at the top level due largely to your fundraising efforts, a job that doesn’t necessarily fall under the “coach” job description.
Thank you for your endless support as a coach, friend and mentor. You say the team is a part of your family and this is obvious by the amount of athletes you keep in touch with and who continue to show up at races and events after graduation. The Penn women’s rowing network has never been stronger, and it is built on the relationships you have worked to cultivate with all of your athletes.
John Phillips cleanly wrapped up his article with, “Having given up the good, she’s now ready for the great.” I strongly disagree with that and think that she doesn’t fully realize what great she has given up. I’d like to close by thanking you again for giving me the opportunity to receive a great education and for the honor and privilege of competing for the Red and the Blue.
Lexi Caffrey is a member of the Penn Rowing Board and a former Penn rower. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.