“It’s a lot like running,” said Crew Club President Emma Prichard when describing the physical challenges of rowing. Having developed an endurance mentality from running distance in high school, she uses that same mentality today, and for the past three years, in crew.
Here at Portland State we do not have a rowing team that is under the athletic department umbrella, hence the Crew Club designation.
This means no athletic scholarships are awarded to these dedicated athletes. And when I say dedicated, I mean it. They are practicing year-round, six days a week, at 5:30. That’s 5:30 in the morning, folks.
Though men’s and women’s crew clubs are split in regattas (competitions), they all practice together. Having been a part of Crew Club for the past three years, Prichard raved about how the team is like a close-knit family, free of drama and full of fun.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend one of their practices on Friday morning, and, let me tell you, setting an alarm for a time before the sun has even risen is not a fun thing to do. I met up with Prichard and she walked me across the Hawthorne Bridge to where their boat house resides.
I was welcomed by 12 friendly faces all up and alert, ready for the morning’s adventures. Everyone was asking questions about the day’s practice, who would be grouped with whom, who would dock first and specifics on what racing shells they would be using—a racing shell being the name of the boats that the rowers use in their regattas.
I launched with the crew coach in a metal, motorized fishing boat. We zoomed around the four racing shells that were out on the water that morning, two singles and two quads. She told me that it was a good morning for rowing because it was warm (though I was freezing), and because the water is always smoothest in the mornings.
She used a megaphone to direct and correct her rowers to perfection. After a warm-up, the rowers did placement tests, meaning they were stationary in the water practicing their oar placement.
They then began their training which included one minute of rowing at an 18-pace, two minutes at a 20-pace, and three minutes at a 22-pace. They completed three of these six-minute trials. I didn’t realize how much work they all put into it–they made it look so easy–but when we all circled back to the dock, all of the rowers were huffing and puffing with flushed faces and sweat-strewn hair.
They train on the water and on rowing machines as well as overall strength training through lifting weights. All of their work is for events that will take less time than it took Prichard and I to walk from campus to the boat house.
The team is currently training for their spring regattas, which is when the bulk of their season takes place. The races that they will compete in in the spring are 2,000 meters long, the Olympic distance. Up to eight crews can compete, but Prichard said that there are usually six.
All the boats line up at the dock in 20-meter-wide lanes.
“[It] looks like a track but with giant boats,” Prichard said as she described the starting line at a regatta. The 2,000-meter takes roughly eight minutes of very intense rowing. “It’s kind of like the 800 meter in track” Prichard said.
Being the club president, Prichard has more responsibility than most. She helps coordinate all of the regattas and boat transport, acts as the team captain, and is in charge of recruitment when the team needs more members. All this on top of teaching yoga at the rec as well as being the rec club student coordinator.
Upon moving here from Colorado Springs, Prichard had no idea what crew was, and I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. She told me, “I remember seeing [rowing] on the Olympics in 2012 and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Maybe I’ll do that when I go to school.’” But it wasn’t until she moved in her freshman year that she found that half of her floor was on Crew and got her into it.
She told me how her friends would come home with blisters on their hands. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to do Crew,’” she said.
If you’re interested in learning how to row, there are classes you can attend. Courses are on Mondays and Wednesdays for four weeks at the boat house (1515 SE Water). Throughout the course, new rowers will take on the Willamette through downtown Portland. The next classes begin on April 6, with more starting on May 11. For more information or to sign up, contact Leslie at [email protected]