MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota women’s rowing team opened their conference season this weekend at the Big 10 double duals in Bloomington, Ind., defeating the 20th-ranked Hoosiers. Their coordinated efforts on the water were a big reason behind the win.
Crew member Maddy Bourgeois said one of the main reasons she rows is the sport’s focus on teamwork.
“It’s not just me in the boat,” she said. “I’m depending on eight, nine other girls who are also on my side.”
The Mississippi River is where the team of student athletes feels most at ease. With a backdrop that looks like a postcard, the team works together, hoping to be the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Wendy Davis, the team’s head coach, said all the team has to do is worry about what all the other teams worry about: the U of M’s talent, coaching and what will happen when teams hit the water.
In rowing, it takes great strength, coordination and technique to propel a boat or shell through the water. The race is 2,000 meters. It takes 250 strokes and roughly six and a half minutes to get to the finish line. It is a graceful but grueling sport.
“It demands a lot of your body,” said Molly Kalmoe, the team’s captain. “You’re going through a lot of pain when you’re racing and training.”
But knowing your team is with you — that you’re not alone — often gives strength, the extra motivation needed to push through, she said.
While the team rows, Davis keeps a close eye on them to make sure the their technique helps them move as quickly on the surface as possible.
But what she doesn’t have to worry about is that the crew works as a team on and off the water. These women have a strong bond.
That support has helped Kalmoe as she deals with struggles of her father’s cancer.
“It’s good to be there for her,” Bourgeois said.
The team raised money for cancer research by running up and down every stair at TCF Bank Stadium in an event called Conquering the Bank. They also bore the uncertainties of cancer on their T-shirts.
Their shirts — called I Believe shirts — spread hope to all.
“I think every time she sees one of those Believe shirts it probably sheds a little bit more off the load and makes [Kalmoe] be the best athlete she can be,” said assistant coach Andy Foltz.
“It was very clear that she was struggling just showing up every day for practice,” Foltz said. “You could see it on her face and the way that she carried herself.”
Rowing itself also has helped Kalmoe. She says the river is where she finds her release.
“It’s very peaceful. I feel very connected to this great river,” Kalmoe said.
But her team still gives her the extra momentum to keep working, pushing, rowing.
“It was such a relief, I think, to be able to take a little of that weight off my shoulders, because I knew that they were behind me … and just to have their support is great,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough for all of that.”
Kalmoe’s older sister, Megan, taught her the importance of teamwork, of letting others help in making you stronger.
Megan is a member of the National Women’s Rowing Team and an Olympian.
Both rowers benefit from the closeness and support only sisters on the team can provide.
“We are more like a family than a team,” Kalmoe siad. “We are about positive attitudes and perseverance … we’re about trying to impact the community in a positive way.”
For Davis and Foltz, it’s an honor to be in the presence of women with such huge hearts.
“It’s great to be able to say we really support these people who are really close to us in more ways than just going out and competing hard,” Foltz said.
An even bigger honor is to see their passion translate into wins, both on and off the water. The team is doing all it can to support Kalmoe and cancer awareness. They put on pink warm ups and painted their paddles the same color for the Row for a Cure event last week. The team hopes to do more events in the future.