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Head Women's Crew Coach Beth Emery and her crew team pick up litter along the Connecticut River shoreline during their off season.
 
Posted 05.04.06

Women's Crew Coach Stresses Dedication, Teamwork

Q: Most of us know little about crew except that very strong people move amazingly fast in tandem in a thin boat and look like water spiders dancing on the surface. Would you mind briefly defining the sport?

A: Rowing can be done competitively or recreationally. Most of the rowing taking place out of Wesleyan's Macomber Boathouse is done with collegiate competition in mind. We race in eights and fours. In “eights” there are eight rowers, each with one oar, plus the coxswain, the person who steers and commands the crew, the same is true of the four, it just has fewer rowers.

Q: Are there different ways to row?

A: "Sweep" rowing is in reference to rowing with both hands on one oar, as a port or starboard oarsperson. In the fall the physical education curriculum offers a sculling class. Sculling is done with a similar oar just smaller in size, with one oar in each hand in singles, doubles or quads.

Q: What is the distance the crews race in their competitive season, and how long does the race take?

A: Weather and water related conditions as well as skill, strength and fitness dictate the time it takes to cover the 2,000-meter distance where two to six crews race head to head in one of six lanes. Women's Division III first Varsity Crews often post a time between 6:40 and 7:00 on a 2,000-meter race course. In a strong headwind the crew that goes 6:40 on flat water could take 7:50 in a strong headwind. Elite women's crews racing in the Olympics can cover that distance in under 6:00 minutes.

Q: Crew spans two seasons?

A: Spring is the traditional 2,000-meter collegiate racing season. Our early season races have two to five teams competing. When we get to our championships at the end of the season 12 to 24 crews might be part of the regatta, so there are morning heats and in the afternoon--third level, petite and grand final. In the fall we have our "non-traditional" season and race against the clock in head-style races over a distance of 2 to 3 miles. There can be anywhere from 10-45 entries, racing over the same course starting at 10-15 second intervals where faster crews are afforded the shortest distance between to points as the slower crews are required to give way on the turns that are present in most head courses.

Q: Tell me about a typical crew practice. Where do you meet and how do the women train?

A: When we are "in-season,” we meet at the Macomber Boathouse a mile from campus on the Connecticut River. Water time is limited by the rules we follow and the weather, so we try to train on the water to develop our rowing skills whenever possible. Fog, high water and wind can force us off the water, so we do a “land” workout instead. Land workouts can be a combination of rowing ergometer training, running, weightlifting and body circuits plus a host of other activities that build muscular endurance, fitness and core body strength. When the team is out of season the athletes will keep themselves in shape with the same type of land workouts.

Q: Physically and mentally, what makes an ideal crew member?

A: An appetite for demanding physical training coupled with the ability and desire to push mentally through what the body sometimes perceives as pain when pushing the muscles, respiratory and pulmonary systems to and through the limits of its capability. A tall, lean, powerful, supple body helps, as does a commitment to teamwork and training in the off season all of which comes packaged with a winning attitude.

Q: What do you think about your team this year?

A: We have a young team of dedicated oarswomen who work hard everyday to make themselves better athletes and rowers. I look forward to helping them reach their personal goals, and their goals as a team this year and over the course of their rowing careers at Wesleyan. They have tremendous potential in the novice eight and varsity four to finish the season strong.

Q: What classes do you teach, or have you taught, as an adjunct professor?

A: I have taught a lot of swimming classes. The beginning swimming class is rewarding and usually a fun group to work with. Of course I enjoy being on the water and teaching the sculling class, though we can only teach that class in the fall, as the water is usually too cold, and moving too fast to teach it in the spring. The singles can flip pretty easily.

Q: What is your interest in rowing and the environment, which was the topic of your article published in American Rowing Magazine in 1995?

A: The water we row on is our playing field, and I believe we have an obligation to take care of that field, to be stewards of sorts, as well as to learn something about the lakes and rivers we race and practice on. I've rowed in a few places like the Los Angeles harbor, and the Piscataway River in New Jersey, where the water was so polluted it took much of the pleasure away from being on the water. I'd like to do more for the river. My current commitment, started with the team this last year which also serves as a community service project for the team is to participate in the annual Connecticut River Cleanup Day held  each fall. I've also taken to pestering my coaching colleagues north and south along the river to have their teams join in.

Q: Where did you coach prior to Wesleyan?

A: My first year of coaching was at Syracuse University followed by a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and four years at Northeastern where I had earned my undergraduate degree in physical education.

Q: You're a former member of the National Collegiate Rowing Committee and the U.S. Rowing's Junior Women's Rowing Committee, and you're ending a six-year term with the NCAA Division III Women's Rowing Championship Committee this year. Why do you get involved in these committees and why are they important to you?

A: I think most of us who coach give back to "our" organizations, we are what we make of them. I see it as part of my professional responsibility to contribute what and when I can. They are great opportunities for professional development and networking with others throughout the country. What I have learned serving on these committees is invaluable, and as I am now becoming aged with knowledge I am happy to share with younger coaches what I have learned in my 25 or so years of coaching. I consider it a great honor to have served, and to have been selected among my peers for a six year term on the the inaugural NCAA Division III Women's Rowing Championship Committee where we created the format, and implement the details, and have overseen the running of one of the newest NCAA Championships.

Q: Tell me about your personal accomplishments as a competitor and coach?

A: When I finished my college rowing career I continued to row with the aim of making the national team. I made it to the pre-elite level a few years running and won some races at the US rowing championships. For a variety of reasons I did not make my goal of being a National team member, it was however an invaluable experience and additional education towards my coaching career. On and off over the years I have continued to compete in Master's Rowing events. My personal accomplishments as a coach might be measured by many in our win/loss records where we have been very successful over the years Wesleyan women have also had many crews finish in the top three at our New England Rowing Championships, and twice have we have earned a berth at the NCAA Rowing Championships. It is harder to measure the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I feel when I have been successful in teaching life lessons learned through rowing, or encouraged and inspired an athlete to achieve a personal best in ergometer racing, or simply watched the personal growth, self-awareness and self- assuredness that comes from the journey of becoming an athlete. Unlike most other sports rowing is a sport you can learn in college, and we do have individuals who join the team with little if any prior athletic experience.

Q: Have you ever tipped over?

A: These are things that you try to forget. But when I was training hard in Boston on the Charles River and just learning to scull, I flipped in front the Harvard men's boathouse. It was not so much the men on the dock watching me flip that was embarrassing, but that the premier woman sculler at the time happened to be training too, and was standing on the dock watching as I so ungracefully flipped the boat and had to just as ungracefully get myself back in.

Q: What are your favorite “on land” activities?

A: Owning my own home, and recently sharing it with a gardener has not turned me into a green thumb yet, but I'm working towards it, and really enjoy learning about the plants, and creating a small colorful garden with plenty of catnip for our cat, Mimi, to play in. I'm also working towards my black-belt in aikido. When we are not in the garden in the summer we are on our bikes, or out hiking, and traveling to visit family and friends, while keeping an eye out for a good folk or jazz concert to attend.

 

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor