Selbie Jason | Keeping the good, still going for the great

Guest Column | A second look at life on the rowing team from a woman still on it

· February 1, 2013, 1:09 am

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An article in Wednesday’s paper (“For Penn women’s rowing, talent is hard to keep,” Jan. 30) presented the Penn women’s rowing team to the Penn community in a way that I have personally never viewed it. As a senior co-captain entering my last semester, I believe there is a lot more to this team than the article reports.

Sure, I have thought of quitting. Who hasn’t? Three and half years into this process, I am far past that point, but I understand that it is not an uncommon thought for some of my teammates. Waking up at 5:30 a.m. five days a week is not easy and it is usually not fun.

To the outsider, this early wake up is the worst part of rowing. From the inside though, this is nowhere near the worst part (although it is definitely not the best).

There are the daily anaerobic threshold workouts, countless extra hours of steady state aerobic work and the fact that we compete a mere total of seven times in our championship season. We practice 17 hours for every one minute of each six-minute race. While this does not sound great, I love it, my teammates love it and the many alumnae who have committed their four years to the team and to one another love it. I understand that not everyone is cut out to thrive with these numerous challenges, but we are. We have a certain strength and resolve that people who cannot take it do not have. Our campus is full of people with dedication toward a cause, a belief, a sport or a course of study, and we applaud everyone who has the extraordinary commitment to excel in these areas.

Although the article claims that we have lost 11 “rowers with pedigree” in the past two years, we have actually lost eight and only three of those were in one of the three boats eligible for NCAA championships. On the other hand, 10 rowers who began at Penn as walk-ons have competed in these boats in the last two years. Three of them have raced in the first varsity boat. Many recruits, who are supposed to be “rowers with pedigree,” are not. They are replaced by the talent and vitality of the walk-on class and frequently quit as a result. This can be a highly competitive sport and if you cannot handle it, quitting is often the easiest way out.

Rowing is difficult and demanding. We have off-season rules about practicing, but being on this team and racing in one of the fastest leagues in the country means putting in more work on our own. People quit because they cannot figure out how to balance and manage their life appropriately. Somehow, the rest of us have figured it out — we are doing just fine and will continue to benefit from our experiences on this team. Rowing is not the only sport with these demands and the other 30 teams on this campus deserve the same respect and encouragement. The balance of being a student athlete can be tough, but we all do it, and we bring home wins and championships for Penn and each other in the process.

Any serious athlete or coach knows that a team will only succeed if each individual wants to succeed. Rowing is often chosen as an example of the ultimate team sport. To be honest, I would rather not have someone on our team who does not hold rowing as a top priority. If she is not focusing on our team goals and constantly working towards them, she is simply slowing us down. To those who have quit, I wish you the best of luck with your decision. The rest of us will continue to press forward as we made that commitment to ourselves, our coaches and our teammates.

Most of my experiences at Penn have been influenced by my commitment to the rowing team. Next year and throughout the rest of my life, I will know that if I can handle my life for four years with this commitment, I can handle life without it. Quitting our team is not giving up a good to go for a great, it is really just giving up. For the rest of us, Penn women’s rowing has pushed us in sport and in life further than we thought we could go, and for that we are eternally grateful.

Selbie Jason is a College senior and one of the Penn women’s rowing team captains. She can be reached at selbiej@sas.upenn.edu.

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