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Penn women's rowing has had several interesting speakers come talk to them, including a NASA astronaut and an FBI hostage rescuer. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

For Penn women's rowing, the COVID-19 pandemic may have taken the team off the water, but it hasn't put much of a dent in its motivation and routines. 

A two-season sport, women's rowing has come off a canceled spring semester and is now in the midst of a canceled fall season. But despite the uncertainty, the Quakers have adapted remarkably well, proving that mindset is everything. 

"I'm trying not to let it really affect me," senior captain Anna Polise said. "I'm trying to imagine as if we will have a normal season. Obviously, that may not happen, but it's so much better to be prepared, at least physically, for racing if that does happen. And I think that's the mindset that we've all tried to take." 

With the cancelation of fall sports, the approach to training looks different this semester. No longer able to practice on the water with the boathouse's closure, training has shifted to running, biking, and weekly circuits. 

"We all have the opportunity to take equipment from Hutch, where our indoor training center is. Most of our teammates who are living in Philly have a rowing machine at their house or a stationary bike to do some rowing-specific activities," senior captain Leila Ashtaryeh said. "We meet three times a week for a circuit where the three captains message in our group chat and say, 'Hey, we're going to be doing a circuit on Tuesday on Shoemaker Green — feel free to come if you want to.'"

Additionally, the Red and Blue have been staying connected with weekly team meetings and an app called Strava, which the team uses to log their training and support each other for doing hard workouts. 

While its hard to stay motivated during these times, the team's drive comes from the routine and discipline that the women have developed as rowers. 

"I've been doing this for eight years, and it's been my life for eight years. I think it's so ingrained in my daily life — just the mentality, the act of getting up and doing my workout," Ashtaryeh said. "It makes me feel like I have to keep going to maintain myself as a person. If I don't work out in the morning or if I don't work out one day, I just feel lethargic and feel like I need to do it for my own well-being."

Polise echoes this feeling. 

"I think to an extent it has to be intrinsic. And then I guess about 20% is, we do have to be ready to row in the spring and not wanting to let our team down if we get back on the water," Polise said. 

At the same time, the approach to training that the women's rowing is taking has changed because of the canceled season, and now focuses on longer endurance over practice races. 

"In a physical sense, it's a little bit less intensity at a little bit longer steady-state, lower heart rate working out, so less max efforts," Polise said. "Ordinarily, we do really hard pieces like 2Ks or four by one tag and race each other and be very competitive. So obviously, there's much less of that. It's a lot more long, slow working out, and building up a cardiovascular base."

For Polise, this time has also been an opportunity to develop a healthier relationship with exercise and nutrition. 

"I don't speak for everyone, but I think that it can be really tough to be anyone in a physique sport where your body type does matter, and I know that's something that I haven't managed as well in the past," Polise said. "So not having a competition has given me a little bit more brain space to focus on making sure that I'm doing the right thing for my body, whether that's doing adequate nutrition, or doing physical therapy, or taking a day off when I feel like I'm not going to be productive to do 80 minutes of cardio."

At the end of the day, despite the rocky road it has faced these past few months, the team continues to prepare and excel in preparation for the spring if there is a season. In that case, Penn remains cautiously optimistic and ready to compete.