The morning air was frigid and sharp, the breeze tugged at the water and the geese cackled; a typical Saturday morning at Wyandotte Lake. Interrupting the birds’ squawking was a small, blonde girl who roared, “Come on! Half way done — push!”
Her voice came from a long, white boat that cruised around the corner of a cliff. Backs hunched, four teammates sat single file, built arms pulling two oars in unison. They glided into their cove, now their limp arms hang at their sides. They were exhausted. Peeling off their damp splash jackets, the team cracked jokes and commended each other on their workout. Just another day.
This was a standard rowing practice for the Kansas City Rowing Club team members freshmen Ellie and Stella Braly and sophomore John Wendt.
To them, rowing is more than just “pushing and pulling” — it’s a passion.
“When I’m rowing I forget about all my problems and the gossip around school,” Ellie said. “It’s kinda like my personal ‘get-away’ from everything. Some people like to get away to the beach…I like to get away rowing.”
The sisters have been rowing for about two years and John for three. Both were originally introduced to the sport by their parents, and the now active rowers never thought they would actually take it up.
John’s parents had joked around about him rowing in the past, but after his interest of basketball faded — they decided to give it a shot.
For the Braly’s, their doctor’s daughter was on a rowing scholarship, and he pitched the idea of the sport to the girls’ father, who then brought it to them.
“My dad woke Stella and I up at four in the morning to go see a practice,” Ellie said. “As soon as I saw what rowing was, I fell in love with it.”
Rowing is an aquatic sport where rowers propel their boat, in technical terms called a shell, forward using oars. The team has to be dead on with their strokes and team members must be mentally tough so they can carry on the will to work hard, thereby enabling them to move swiftly through the water.
Every day after school, Ellie and Stella hop into their navy Subaru and make the half-hour commute to the lake.
“We don’t have much time,” Stella said. “We just grab a snack and change clothes and go.”
After bumping down gravel roads and coasting through the park, the team arrives at their personal cove and warms up by stretching out and performing dry land exercises like planks, wall sits and jumping jacks.
From there, they begin the delicate process of taking the boats out of their racks and getting them into the water. Not only are the boats hefty, but pricey as well, so they would be expensive to replace or fix. So, the team must be exact about their movements to prevent any parts from breaking.
A team leader calls out directional instructions so the team can move the boats, which can get up to 60 feet long, into the water. The team members kick off their sneakers and slip their feet into built in shoes, much like slipping feet into the shoes of a snowboard, so that their feet don’t slide when they row.
After the painstaking introduction, they’re off. They begin by working their arms, and then move onto balance and technique. From there, the teammates focus on building endurance and preparing for races by doing different drills and training.
“It’s a lot harder than everybody gives it credit for,” the rower’s teammate Ashton Baker said. “There are so many different rules and terms, it’s like learning a new language.”
The sisters admit to being intimidated by all the material they had to take in and that they had no idea how they were going to memorize it all.
“At first it seems like all this information is being thrown at you,” Ellie said. “It takes about a year to really learn everything.”
Having gotten comfortable with all the foreign terms and rules, John and Ellie have their sights set on rowing in college, and they know that continuing rowing with the club will allow them to do that.
“It’s my dream to row in college,” Ellie said. “I haven’t thought about afterwards, but I would hope I could still row or even coach.”
And her dreams are not that far off, either. Schools throughout the Midwest are recruiting large numbers of young women for rowing in order to balance out the budget for girls and boys sports. For former East student and current sophomore at K-State, Meghan Dickinson, this was exactly her case.
Rowing scouts typically look for tall, athletic women to participate. After participating in volleyball and track in high school, Dickinson hit the mark, scoring her a scholarship paying for a fourth of her tuition and for her books.
“I got a letter in the mail telling me that I was the type of person they were looking for for their rowing team,” Dickinson said. “[I] decided to check it out since I was already debating playing a sport in college.”
Not knowing anything about rowing, Dickinson went into the scholarship blindly.
“When I made a visit to the school, I watched a practice and decided I’d give it a shot.” Dickinson said.
Although Dickson is no longer on the team due to health issues, she still stays informed on the goings of the team and considers rowing a fantastic experience.
“I learned that I can push myself way further than I ever imagined physically and [how it] makes you mentally tough.”
Whether they’re rowing in college or not, the rowers say the sport is a way for them to stay in shape, learn to work as a team and create long-lasting friendships with those they row with. At the end of the day, the team feels fulfilled by their day on the water.
Climbing out of their boat, the teammates grin and pat each other on the back, all the while reminding one another to be thankful that they didn’t fall into the water. They stash their equipment away and gather in a circle around their coach, Jay Coffman, reviewing their practice and upcoming events. “Alright lets break it down!” Coffman said.
Hands in, the rowers beamed at each other.