Ready Oar Not: Rowing Offers Leg Up for Sea Worthy Gals


Not every gal is game for the hand sores, muscle aches and exhaustion that come with rowing your boat fiercely down the stream. You also have to be a whiz at time management, since crew cuts deeply into school and work schedules with its ridiculously early wake up calls to run, row and build endurance for hard core sculling.

No rest for the worthy, it’s off to the rowing machines (aka ergs) in the afternoon to pump up arm, core and leg strength and increase your SPM (strokes per minute), sometimes followed by a grueling night run after dinner. Like military boot camp, it’s all about one buff girl being part of a well-oiled machine. Anchors (and personal time) away!

It’s no wonder everyone who feels the burn, bellyaches. So why commit?

“The pros, I would say, are being in the best shape of your life from the intense workouts, being mentally strong and making great friendships,” shares Richard Tzeng, head coach of the girls’ crew team at Saint Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, CA, which is recognized as one of the best programs in the country. “The cons are it can burn you out. You come home from practice so tired that you can’t do homework, and it takes a level of commitment to keep up with school work and the time the sport demands.”

Still, if you are able to stay afloat, rowing could be your ticket to college. If you’re very good at the sport, you might even score a free ride. This option is especially attractive to frustrated Californians who are finding it challenging to get into cash poor state schools, even with a 4.0 GPA.

More colleges are adding nontraditional women sports like rowing to satisfy Title IX requirements for gender equity in federally funded institutions.


Among them is Ohio State, which hiked women’s rowing to varsity status nine years ago. The team has deep pockets – $900,000 annually – to grant 20 scholarships, including 16 with 100 percent of tuition covered. Still, because of the high demands of the sport, there often aren’t enough high school rowers to go around, according to recruiters, who sometimes solicit complete novices on campus who have never sat in a shell.

Even if you rowed your last year of high school and never made a splash (like many newbies) you can still attract the coaches and recruiters. But Tzeng points out that you have to genuinely like the sport to keep your spot on a team.

“I coach girls to love the sport the way I love it, and if you do it primarily to get into a school, then you won’t last one year in college,” he says.

Last year, his rowers went on to schools like Harvard, Georgetown and Stanford. A coxswain went to Cornell. They also got into top state universities. Some schools like UCSB have crew clubs and don’t offer scholarships but CAL has a powerful women’s crew team with a stunning house in Oakland and a summer camp program to train interested girls.

At one time, recruits came strictly from New England prep schools, but according to the New York Times, rowers are being reeled in from drier parts of the nation with no history of rowing, as well as from overseas. Ohio State’s top varsity rowers have come from Germany, Russia, and the Netherlands.


Beyond the college degree, rowing gets a taped thumbs up for reforming onetime couch potatoes who suddenly find themselves going out for runs instead of watching reruns of NCIS. Wonders never cease. And for some high school girls, the military structure and rigor of being up at dawn and having to get your homework done before hitting the sack, leaves little down time for midweek distractions that have some parents unglued, namely obsessions with make-up and fashion, boy troubles and mood altering drugs.


If all of these factors don’t float your boat, you might just want to stick to the landlubber’s volleyball and soccer, and start saving up for college. But remember, that course too, might prove a bumpy ride.

Images: A. Blight, Ohio State, Luanne Bradley

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.