Libby Mulligan | Actual talent never quits

Guest column | When it comes to collegiate rowing, nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it

· February 1, 2013, 6:27 pm

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After being sent the John Phillips article in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Pennsylvanian about the women’s rowing team (“For rowing, talent is hard to keep,” Jan. 30), I feel compelled to send you this letter. I think it’s really sad that of all the articles Mr. Phillips could have written about this team, full of interesting, talented, intelligent and unique women, he instead chose to focus on two of the small minority that have chosen to give up and walk away from this fantastic group.

I understand that not everyone is cut out for rowing. The sport itself is grueling, the schedule is draining and on top of that Penn is one of the most competitive academic environments in the country. The drive, commitment, strength of character and determination that it takes to not only live this life but to thrive in it cannot be found in just any college student. When one of these athletes decides that they cannot cut it, I think it is only right that they quit. Indeed, it would be disrespectful to their teammates to continue on giving anything less than their best.

However, this is not the story that is being presented. Despite the thin denials, this article was written to glorify quitting. I find it laughably hypocritical that the anonymous source referenced in the article is quoted as saying she is looking forward to using the dedication and commitment that she learned from rowing in other parts of her life. If those qualities were actually a part of who she was, she would not be quitting on her teammates and walking away from the coaching staff,who have invested precious time and resources in her athletic development and to whom she likely owes her admission to Penn.

More than anything else I take issue with Mr. Phillips’ closing line “Having given up the good, she’s now ready for the great.” I think I am in a unique position to completely refute that ridiculous, cliche and ill-conceived closing line. I was a four-year member of the rowing team, acting as one of the captains for two of those years and I subsequently worked as a volunteer coach, attending every practice, training trip and race for three and a half years. I believe I am more than qualified to tell you this: great does not even begin to describe the time I spent on and with this team. The lessons that rowing taught me about the importance of commitment, dedication and hard work have set me up to be successful for the rest of my life. That alone would be enough but that’s not the end. There is nothing more precious to me than the teammates I met, who are now my closest friends, who continue to support and inspire me daily. I am also forever indebted to Head Coach Mike Lane, who recruited me out of high school, giving me an opportunity to attend and graduate from an Ivy League school, coached me during all four years of college and never gave up on me or my teammates — no matter how difficult we were. I am now lucky enough to call Mike one of my closest friends and one of the most influential figures in my life.

Perhaps the next time Mr. Phillips wants to write an article about the rowing team he can contact me. I would be more than willing to put him in touch with any number of current or former athletes who would be proud to tell him their story and to include their full names.

Libby Mulligan is a former volunteer assistant coach and captain of the Penn women’s rowing team. Her email address is elmulligan@gmail.com

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