Determination and Early Mornings: Meet Penn State Crew

There was a time when I thought that waking up at 6:23 a.m. for my 8 a.m. class was early and warranted some sort of golden star for the day. Then, I met some members of the Penn State Crew Team.

Begun in 1994, the Penn State men’s and women’s crew teams are now thriving clubs consisting of about 80 members. Both men’s and women’s teams consist of a varsity team and novice team, in which a member can move up from the novice team onto varsity after one year of involvement. Penn State Crew boasts a history of excellence on the water, including Natalie Dell, who learned to row at Penn State and continued to win a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.

According to John O’Brien, a four-year member and co-captain of the Men’s Team, Penn State Crew currently has the largest team budget of any club sport at Penn State. O’Brien explains that the budget comes from extensive fundraising done by the teams, including ball shagging at volleyball matches and ticket scanning at Beaver Stadium. These fundraising efforts, in turn, fund specialized shells (the technical term for the actual boat itself) which can reach prices up to $20,000 each, and paying the coaching staff. This past August, the teams welcomed their new varsity head coach Ryan Laudermilch and a new novice head coach Nick D’Imperio, both alumni of the Penn State Crew Team.

Coach Laudermilch says he hopes to expand his knowledge of rowing and to bring stability to Penn State Crew, especially with regards to funding and membership by building a more rigid set of program expectations.

“I feel that if I continue to grow as a coach and build a stable platform, Penn State Crew will be able to compete at its highest attainable level,” he said.

Though women’s rowing is considered an NCAA sport, the Penn State women’s team is still a club sport. Rowing for men has yet to be recognized by the NCAA as a varsity sport, but a quick look at Penn State crew’s practice schedule suggests that these athletes are just as hardworking as any other Nike-sporting team at Penn State:

  • Monday: Be at the White Building for practice on the rowing machines at 6:15 a.m.
  • Tuesday: Another day begins at the White Building. However, this time at 4:45 a.m. to make the thirty minute drive to Bald Eagle State Park, where practice is held on the water. Return to campus just in time for 8 a.m. class.
  • Wednesday: Repeat Tuesday. Yes, two consecutive days of practice at 4:45 a.m.
  • Thursday: Where: White Building. When: 6:15 a.m. What: Rowing machines.
  • Friday: Repeat Thursday.
  • Saturday: To accommodate those with football tickets, practice begins at 6 a.m. on home football weekends.
  • Sunday (yes, Sunday): 8 a.m. practice.

(Keep in mind that many members of the team practice on their own time outside of mandatory early morning practices.) 

This schedule certainly raises a question: WHY SO EARLY?! According to O’Brien, a boat of eight rowers and one coxswain (nine people total) cannot practice if one person is absent. Therefore, practice needs to be held at the wee hours of the morning when all nine members can be present. For those extremely determined to excel in the sport, that means a bedtime around 8 p.m. When I asked if the team consists of all morning people, O’Brien replied, “If you aren’t, you will be.”

About half of the team has had rowing experience prior to joining Penn State Crew, according to women’s co-captain Carly Cubit. New members can join at the beginning of both the fall and spring semesters, though the team practices during the wintertime as well, primarily focusing on conditioning. Cubit explained that the winter season has pros and cons in that the team gets to sleep more, but cannot row in the water. When I asked her what “sleep more” actually meant, she replied, “6:15 a.m.”

The fall season consists of longer races, including the Head of the Charles race held in Boston, whereas the spring season is considered the “championship season” in which shorter 2K races are held. Last May, all varsity women’s boats made it to the finals of the ACRA championships, and Cubit hopes to continue to help the team succeed next spring.

All of the determination and teamwork involved in rowing has enabled members to succeed on and off the water, regardless of the time of day. As O’Brien puts it, “It’s the best mistake I ever made.”

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About the Author

Yuka Narisako

Yuka legally immigrated to the United States via airplane in 1996 from the small island nation of Japan. Since then she has migrated throughout the country and now identifies herself as a senior majoring in Architectural Engineering. The Shandygaff is her Happy Place, though she was once kicked out of the establishment after breaking her shoe and screaming “I LOVE DAY DRINKING. I’M HAVING FUN.” Yuka is overly enthusiastic about life in general, but especially Ja Rule, Halloween, and the puffy black vest she purchased from the Gap. You can reach her at [email protected], or through Twitter @yukahontass.

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