You’ve played your sport since you were five or six. You define yourself as an athlete and an expert of your craft as you have always given 100 percent to be the best you can be. You’ve enjoyed championships, awards, and accolades from friends, parents, faculty, the media, and almost everyone you’ve met. Then, once arriving at college, you decide to take a break.
This is the story of a lot of people at Wesleyan and collegiate athletes in general. After all, playing college sports is not a risk-free proposition and there are certainly tradeoffs involved. Classes, on-campus jobs, rehearsals, relationships: when all of these things are on your plate, there is nothing wrong with making choices in order to live a balanced life.
However, there are also athletes who have followed a completely opposite path. Instead of taking a break, they embarked on a new journey in competitive sports, making a year-round commitment, and never regretting the decision. As a new recruiting season approaches, The Argus sat down with two members of women’s crew, Sam Hill ’20 and Meghan Heffernan ’21, and one oarsman from men’s team, Andrew Martin ’21, to get some insight on their experience of rowing as a walk-on.
The conversation began when the athletes shared how they got involved with the team. Heffernan told a rather simple and modest story.
“I was walking into Usdan where a little table was set up with some oars over it and I stopped by because I was curious,” she said. “After talking with Coach Jones, I just showed up in their next practice. Through weeks and months when I finally kind of learned how to row, they congratulated me and announced that I was officially in.”
“It was just self-selecting; there were no tryouts,” Hill added. “People who didn’t feel like doing it just dropped out eventually. I have played sports throughout my life and I was going to play collegiate lacrosse at Johns Hopkins last year, but eventually, I decided not to go DI. When I came here and I knew that I would need a sport and to be on a team. So I emailed the coach during the summer and joined the team in September.”
When asked to describe their experiences in three words, each of the walk-ons had inspiring phrases to summarize their season.
“Do your job, ”Martin said.
“Support your teammates,” followed Heffernan.
“Race against yourself,” added Hill.
Then, the conversation was interrupted by laughter and banter when the group was asked to reveal a team secret.
“Somebody stole our speaker and we’d like it back,” Heffernan said after much consideration.
According to Heffernan, there is a room in Freeman where the team had a speaker bolted to the wall. Even a lock on the door could not deter the crook.
“Another secret is that we have to pay for our betting tees and I wish I didn’t have to do that. It’s something that only happens in crew,” said Hill.
When asked about their opinions on their head coach, Hill opened up to express their love for Pat Tynan.
“[Tynan is] a wonderful coach and a super adaptable one, more so than any other coaches I’ve ever had,” said Hill.
Heffernan agreed and added that when she was struggling earlier in the year, she was glad to have Coach Tynan there, making her feel genuinely warm. He still checks in with her every week.
There is no doubt that it is important for student-athletes to find a balance among all that is on their plate.
“The key for me finding balance is controlling the things I can control,” Martin said. “It’s about taking every practice, every class, and every race one at a time. When I’m on the water, the only thing I can control is making extra effort, being focused, and finding ways to move with the shell. When I’m in the classroom, I’m only in control of my focus. Whatever you do in life, if you want to succeed, you have to be disciplined.”
Speaking of the advice they have for pre-frosh who want to follow their foot-steps, Martin and Heffernan believed that it is important to employ a good strategy both mentally and in practice.
“Crew is all about self-sacrifice,” Martin said. “You have to demonstrate the mental toughness to embrace everything rowing throws at you. A varsity sport is a major time commitment, but if you love to compete and empty the tank every day, there’s nothing better on Earth. Walking-on when the team is predominately made up of recruits is challenging. It’s all about the willingness to sacrifice yourself for the guys around you, compete your tail off, and do your job every day.”
“Don’t be afraid of your upperclassmen,” Hefferman said. “They will understand you, help you and teach you in the way that coaches can’t have.”
Lastly, The Argus probed a test of their friendship by asking the crew members to nominate the person they love the most on the team. It took them some time to decide before Hill finally decided to sing the praises of Sophia Shoulson ’18.
“She is one of the most under-appreciated people on this campus,” Hefferman said. “If you want to talk about someone who balances the team and the academics, there is no one else on the team but her. Also, she was a novice in her freshman year, so to be a novice and look up to her being in the second-ranked 1V in the country after only three years is amazing and incredible. She showed me that it is all possible.”
Heffernan expressed the same view and nominated first-year Emily Frazer-Abel.
“I admire that fact that she is always at practice and giving her best even while she was having a prolonged back injury,” Heffernan said. “But honestly, if you mention any of my teammates, I can tell you a million reasons why I love them.”
Not long afterward, this casual Sunday night conversation came to an end when both of them realized that they didn’t pick each other and then broke into a tongue-in-cheek argument, a reflection of the positive atmosphere on the team.
Henry Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.