Samy Morton’s first encounter with rowing was very much an accident.
“In high school I was a swimmer, but in my senior year, right before I graduated, my coach made us do a 2k race on the rowing machine just for swim training," Morton said.
The 2k ergometer test introduced Morton, who is now a Penn women's rowing junior, to an entirely new world.
“I did really well, and so he entered me into the Hong Kong indoor rowing champs, and then I broke the Hong Kong record.”
For the next two years, Morton never thought of rowing at the college level. She swam for Tulane University, a Division I team in New Orleans, until COVID-19 broke out.
“Then COVID happened and I took a gap year. I found this guy in Hong Kong who used to be on the Hong Kong [national] team,” Morton said. “He used to teach me a bit about rowing. So I was just kind of rowing with him. And then I rowed in New Orleans for a little bit.”
Morton’s record-breaking 2k score awarded her much attention from college rowing coaches, including Penn's.
“I was not happy with swimming anymore and wanted something new,” Morton said. “And I knew there’s always a chance to try rowing. So I just reached out to a bunch of schools and [Penn was] the one I like the most.”
Up until that point, Morton had no experience with serious rowing. In Hong Kong, where she grew up, sculling and lightweight rowing were more popular. As a result, she hardly set foot in competitive rowing. Penn marked the start of her serious rowing career.
Still, just one season was enough to demonstrate her talent in the sport. At the Head of the Charles Regatta last October, her boat finished seventh in the Women’s Championship Eights; a month later, she took first place with the Women’s Four in the Princeton Chase.
For the upcoming spring season, Morton expressed her high hopes.
“We got a good team,” Morton said. “A lot of freshmen are really strong. In fall, our first boat [was] half freshmen, only the coxswain [was] a senior. It’s good that we are doing so well. We’ll have that same boat for a whole other year. So we’ll definitely be getting big results.”
Currently, her biggest goal is to qualify for the NCAA Championships, which will happen after the end of the Ivy League season. Given the strong performance of her boat this past fall, she looks forward to entering the regatta that represents the nation’s highest level of college rowing.
After graduating from Penn in 2023, Morton plans to move to Australia, where she has citizenship, to further her rowing career at a higher level. Her first step would be the U23 national team, which races in the U23 World Championships that take place every summer.
“I’m already in contact with the Australian Federation. They are starting to know who I am,” Morton said. “It’s a good place to start. They are so nice, very supportive. I’ve been talking with them about moving back to Australia.”
Making it to the national team is the next step. Though admitting its difficulty, Morton believes that through hard work, there always stands a chance.
“After I graduate, I’ll probably move to Australia, train really hard, and try to get onto the national team, and hopefully see where it goes,” Morton said. “I mean, it's optimistic of me, but if I keep improving at the rate I am, it could happen.
“Obviously the Olympic team is the ultimate goal. Hopefully with moving back to Australia and getting into the national team system, once you are one of their athletes, they’ll consider you for a boat. So that’s my vision.”
But right now, all that she looks forward to is the spring season. Instead of the long 6,000-meter head races in the fall, the races will be held in short 2,000-meter courses, where all of the boats are released at the same time.
“I prefer 2k much better,” Morton said. “In head racing, you never see the other boats. But in 2k, they are right there. You can hear everything and much more. I’m really excited for the 2k season.”
Notching top performances in her first-ever year of college rowing, Morton aims to build on her excellent records and bring the team to another level of competitiveness. With a young yet strong A-Boat lineup, the women’s rowing team is ready for its first race of the season, which will take place next Sunday in New Jersey.
It'll be no accident this time, though, when Morton ends up in the boat.