We all realize the impact of reputation and status in society. Look around. Titles such as ‘dean of the college” or ‘three-time MVP” hold our attention a little bit longer than labels like ‘quarterback” or ‘teacher.” The same goes for the title of ‘varsity” in terms of our sports teams in comparison to the label of ‘club.” But take a look at a team sans label, and you may gain a bit more perspective into the motivation and character of individuals that are a part of that team.

Take crew, for instance. In May, the women’s team will officially be named UR’s 11th varsity sport for women. But perhaps more interesting than the fact that the team is finally attaining varsity status is the fact that it does not need that label to be competitive.

‘It’s very clear from the time anyone comes into the program that, number one, we are already racing against almost all varsity teams,” head coach Will Greene said. ‘Number two, it’s more fun to win. And number three, we are a competitive club team, and it is our goal to beat everyone we face. And in order to beat the people we face, we must train.”
And train they do. In a given week, crew will practice six of the seven mornings for about two hours. This example of the dedication crew requires from its participants is what differentiates the rowing environment from that of other club and even many varsity sports. And participation extends far beyond what these athletes do on the water.

Traditionally, crew teams have to fundraise significantly more than other sports to offset the cost of shells, which can cost upward of $10,000, and other financial burdens, including rental fees for storage and travel expenses.

‘There’s so much to running the team, and the athletes play such a major role in running the team,” Greene said. ‘That is one of the strengths of having a club program.”

Beyond that, the atmosphere of having to work for the benefit of racing on the water has fostered an atmosphere that is conducive in building team unity and life-long ties to the program. Greene himself, who is in his sixth year as the ‘Jacket coach and who attended UR from 1984-88, couldn’t resist the opportunity to come back to coach the sport.

Crew began as a club program at UR in 1981 thanks to the efforts of three members of the Class of 1983 who had a lot of trouble garnering money and community support in order to get the program started. Today, the club including the ‘varsity” and ‘novice” teams has expanded to include 97 students, the majority of which had never picked up an oar before coming to UR. For this reason, every new rower participates for one year on the novice team.

‘Crew relies so heavily on teaching people to row,” Greene said. ‘So this provides an outlet for people who have never rowed before to have an entire year to develop as an oarsman or woman.”

The required year on novice also serves the purpose of getting new oarsmen or oarswomen into the rhythm of life in the competitive arena of rowing, namely waking up at 6 a.m. to go to practice and adapting to the physical requirements necessary to compete. Additionally, crew pushes students to learn how to motivate themselves in order to be at their respective bests on the water. During the winter season, where being on the Genesee is impossible because of the Rochester climate, an emphasis is put on the athletes to learn how to motivate themselves so that, come spring season, they are ready to train at a high level.

But while the hard work and sweat that these athletes pour into the sport is notable, even more impressive is the fact that the rowers hold themselves to as high a standard and push themselves equally as hard as any varsity athlete, even though the sport is technically labeled ‘club.”

For me personally, it was hard to get an idea of the appeal of waking up before the sun rises in the freezing cold every morning to train. That is, until yesterday morning, when I woke up at 6 a.m. to watch as the boats launched from the dock at the Genesee

Waterways Center. Seeing the way the shells silkily glide through the still water in the early glow of autumn sun, eight oars effortlessly skimming the surface in perfect synchrony, has just made me reconsider sleeping in.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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