Starting your freshman year of college can be daunting; from meeting new people, to being away from home, to the endless amounts of studying, many freshmen are nervous to start this new adventure. Now, imagine coming to the University of Michigan to play a sport that you have never played before. This was the case with freshman Kate Kerns.
The University of Michigan Women’s Rowing team offers the unique opportunity for girls to try out for the team during the first two weeks of school, however Kerns was recruited. For the incoming team full of athletes new to rowing (termed ‘Novice’), coaches recruit a handful of girls from high school that excelled in their respective sports. Usually volleyball or basketball players, Kerns fit the part perfectly with her background in volleyball and tennis. Never having rowed before and not knowing much about the process, Kerns found out about the opportunity when novice coach Dan Harrison reached out to her and her family.
“I was recruited by another school for volleyball… but this was the only school that reached out to me for crew” explained Kerns. Seeing this as a new and interesting opportunity, Kerns decided to accept even though she had never rowed before.
“I decided to commit to the University of Michigan because this was an opportunity like no other… competing with top-notch athletes, going to the top public university in the country, and being immersed in one of the best cities” said Kerns, again acknowledging that this was the chance to do something new and exciting that most students never have.
The goal of the University of Michigan Novice Rowing team is to introduce the sport to the girls. Although many of the girls that make the team played sports in high school, the novice coaches believe that they never found the one sport that they could truly excel at because they were never exposed to it. This is why they recruit so heavily – to get girls to try out and experience what it’s like to row.
Rowing for the University of Michigan is a once in a lifetime opportunity – Kerns as well as six other girls were recruited out of high school to play a Division I sport that they had never learned. About 30 other girls who had never touched an oar or sat in a boat also made the team after the two-week tryouts. Then, it was time to begin training and learning the fundamentals of rowing.
Rowing is tough, with the countless hours spent on the erg (the rowing machine), taking daily trips out to the boathouse, waking up two times a week for a morning practice followed by a practice that afternoon, and spending your Saturday mornings before football games out on the water preparing for that next race, it is a lot to balance. As a freshman, you are still learning how to balance your classes with your studying and your social life, but adding a sport on top of that? It only makes you work harder.
“I have learned that it can be hard balancing school, rowing, and social activities, it has really made me focus on what is a priority in my life” Kerns revealed, “but I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything in the world. I am surrounded by great people and have made the best friendships from it.”
Although rowing takes a lot of mental and physical strength, and she’s only been rowing for almost four months now, Kerns loves the new sport.
“It gives me a burning desire to push myself more than I thought I ever could and become a stronger person both mentally and physically” stated Kerns.
Although a lot of time is put into the workout and the physical aspect of the sport, Kerns has learned it is also about the relationships that are made on the team with the other novice rowers.
“My favorite part about rowing has been building new relationships with my teammates and learning more about myself along the way,” said Kerns.
When I asked her if she made the right decision given that this is a completely new sport, during her first year of college where school alone can be a lot to handle, Kerns knew exactly what she was going to say.
“100x yes! I can’t imagine my college career any other way” she expressed with a smile.
Kerns is the perfect of example of a student that is embracing her first-year experience whole-heartedly. From new experiences to new friends, to even a new sport, she has gone above and beyond to make this year incredibly rewarding and exciting. For Kerns and the other novice rowers, rowing is not just about going out and winning the race (although that is the goal), it is about learning something new, working through the uncomfortable and challenging, and becoming a part of a family that will last them a lifetime.
Photos Courtesy of Madeline Stach and UMich Rowing