Sports: Open Water Race

Although in songs, rowing a boat “gently down the stream” implies a quiet, leisurely activity, the women on the University of Central Oklahoma’s rowing team have a different experience. For these women, rowing proves to be an intensely–strenuous but rewarding adventure. “It’s not just paddling around out in the water,” Coach Pat Brown says. “Our girls work very, very hard.”

Racing is like sprinting for six to seven minutes, pulling a 200-pound boat through the water, plus the weight of seven fellow rowers. Brown says lactic acid tests have proven that, at the shortest time, rowing is second in physical exertion only to Olympic wrestling. “That’s the level that we’re training and trying to race at,” he says. “There are no breaks, no lulls and no substitutions. You don’t pull someone out and put them on a bench because they’re tired. It’s a very intense, competitive sport. It’s incredibly physically demanding.”

“A lot of people don’t realize how hard it actually is,” Co-Captain Jessica Lawson explains. She says whenever her body wants her to quit, she remembers that the body can do more than the brain thinks it can. The body can overcome the pain and throbbing legs and keep going. “It’s a really tough sport,” Co-Captain Brittany Koster says. “It’s a great fitness sport; it really pushes you to your limits, and I enjoy being challenged that way.”

The 30-member, female UCO team started in 2008. Men’s teams are not sanctioned by the NCAA. “There are more women’s rowing teams than there are men’s nationwide,” Brown says.

The women row at the Chesapeake Boathouse in Oklahoma City and will move to Chesapeake’s Central Boathouse when it is completed. They practice for two hours every morning except Sundays. In bad weather, the team practices in UCO’s Hamilton Field House. Races, called regattas, are held in the spring. Typically, six boats start at a complete standstill and then take off for a finish line 2,000 meters away.

Depending on the number of schools parti-cipating, the first two or three boats to cross the finish line progress to the semifinals, and then the top two or three of those boats move to the finals. The team competes in Florida, San Diego, Tennessee, Austin, Tulsa, Philadelphia and Boston. “We travel farther than most D-2 rowing programs because there aren’t many D-2 schools around here,” Brown says.

In big competitions, as many as 30 schools compete. “There’s nothing better than a close race,” Brown says. Events include eight-man and four-man races. Both types of races include a coxswain, who yells “row” and steers. The UCO team brings a varsity eight, a novice eight and a four-man boat to each race. “It’s really exciting when you see that your work is finally paying off,” Lawson says. “This is a time when you can show what you’ve been working on.”

Brown says rowing is the epitome of a team sport. “There are no superstars in a boat. You win or lose as a team,” he explains. “Everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, so no one is better than anyone else. You have to work together. You can’t let up. If you aren’t pulling your own weight, you’re just dead weight in the boat.”

“The team aspect is more than in any sport I’ve ever played,” Lawson says. “If one person is off, it throws the whole team off.” Koster agrees. “The whole reason I started rowing is to be involved on a team,” Koster says.

Brown says rowing is one of the few sports in which freshmen can immediately be part of the team. “No one at a D-1 school can just walk up and join the basketball team,” Brown says. “We look for someone who has a potential to become a strong athlete and the potential to become a strong rower, and then work with them on the fundamentals. If you’re willing to work hard and willing to train, over time, you can really develop the skills.”

“You really get to know the people around you on a different level when you’re up at 5 in the morning just busting it out — they’re encouraging you and you’re encouraging them,” Koster says.

The first regatta of the season is March 20, and the season is set to wrap up in mid-May. The NCAA championship is the first week of June. “I think for a D-2 team, starting up in this part of the country, we’ve had great success in the last three years, and I hope we continue to see that growth in the future,” Brown says. “We continue to get faster.”

As rowing grows in Oklahoma, the team is only going to get better, Koster says. “It’s going to be cool to look back on it and say I was on the first team,” she says.

UCO students interested in the team can e-mail [email protected].

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