After just two years of rowing, sophomore Christine Koehler has been accepted to attend the 2010 USRowing Women’s National Team Pre-Elite Camp this summer. It is an event limited to a select group of 16 of the nation’s top rowers. It prepares the women to advance to the U23 team and eventually the Senior National team, which participates in the Olympics and World Championships. Her 6’1″ frame gives her a huge advantage over other rowers, but her work ethic gives her an unlimited potential. She says she would have laughed five years ago if she was told she’d be a Division I athlete, but when she rows, no one is laughing.
White and Blue Review: When did you begin rowing and how did you get started?
Christine Koehler: I started rowing two years ago at the beginning of freshman year. The women’s rowing team sent out a letter to all freshman girls trying to recruit for the team. There was a sentence in the letter that said tall athletes usually do better. I had tried both volleyball and basketball when I was younger, and didn’t exactly excel at either of those sports, so I thought that maybe I had a chance at being good at rowing.
WBR: What is your favorite thing about rowing?
CK: My favorite thing is the complete connection I have with my team. Rowing is unique in that every single member of the boat has to be locked in with everyone else. You need all 9 people in the boat to be focused and intense to have a really good row. Rowing is completely team-centered. There is no individual that can stand out and shine, you need everyone in the boat to pull together to have a good row. There are those moments, especially during a race, when the oars all get together and you can just feel the connection of being together.
WBR: What are your strengths as a rower?
CK: My height allows me to have a really long stroke which allows me to move more water every stroke I take. Also, I am pretty powerful.
WBR: Where have your biggest improvements come from?
CK: Honestly, the most drastic change has been in my endurance and physical health. I was not an athlete in high school, so starting rowing was definitely challenging physically. It is still really hard, but getting in shape has allowed me to develop technique. I’ve gotten a lot better at pacing myself and knowing how hard I can pull for how long.
WBR: What has been your biggest challenge so far in your rowing career?
CK: Rowing is a very mental sport, especially our off-season indoor practice. There are definitely some days when you just hit a mental block and it can be quite difficult to work past that. It has been hard learning to be my own motivator.
WBR: What is the thing you need to work on most to take your skills to the next level?
CK: Technique definitely. Power helps a boat move but making sure your hands stay level and that you don’t throw other people off is essential. This season I have been trying to focus on a different aspect of technique everyday because the power part has fallen into place.
WBR: What are your individual goals for your rowing career?
CK: I don’t really know. I feel like I have gotten so far in such a short time. It would be amazing to continue on to the National Team and maybe the Olympics someday, but I would have to make a very big commitment if I wanted to do that. I just want to see how this camp goes and then reevaluate my plans.
WBR: You must be thrilled about being accepted for the Pre-Elite Camp this summer, what was the process like for getting accepted?
CK: Surprisingly easy! I had to submit my height, weight, 2K time (its our test to measure how fast you are), and a coach’s recommendation. They have no idea what I look like when I row or anything!
WBR: Five years ago, what would have you thought if someone told you that you’d be attending such a prestigious camp?
CK: Like I said, I was not an athlete at all in high school, so I would have laughed if someone had told me I was a Division I Collegiate athlete. If they had told me I would be attending this camp I would have thought they had completely lost their mind.
WBR: Other than the camp, what opportunities are there for you to improve your rowing in the offseason?
CK: It is difficult to improve in the offseason, especially over the summer. You can do other fun activities like running or biking to keep your cardio up, but nothing quite compares to the workout that rowing gives you. The only way to improve is to row, whether on the water or on an erg (stationary rowing machine). And it is very difficult to force yourself to erg, especially if you don’t have a team there with you cheering you on. So really, just doing a lot of cardio and strength training is the best way to improve in the offseason.
WBR: What has been the best advice you have received regarding your rowing career and abilities?
CK: Just the encouragement that I get from my teammates encourages me to shoot for the stars. They encourage me each and every day and just knowing how far they want me to go spurs me on to try as hard as I can in all that I do.
WBR: Who has been your biggest inspiration?
CK: It’s really difficult to pick one person. I would have to say everyone on my team from coach to coxswain. Especially my varsity teammates who push me every practice. Seeing how hard they work makes me want to work even harder. We all come from different experience levels of rowing, and it’s great to learn something every day from a different person. I hope that I can make them proud this summer!
WBR: Lastly, as the season comes to a close these next few weeks, what are you looking forward to most?
CK: I am looking forward to two more really good weekends of racing and more time with my teammates. We have improved so much together and we can be fantastic in these last few weeks. It’s exciting to be going into these races with girls that I am so close to.