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From A Seat on the Bench to a Seat in a World Championship Eight
April 20, 2012
Amanda Polk is not the kind of person that does well sitting still.
Which is part of the reason she ended up rowing on the United States national team and training for the 2012 Olympic Games. Her original goal in high school was to play basketball and then play in college.
But during her junior year at Oakland Catholic High School in suburban Pittsburgh, she spent most of the time sitting on the bench watching.
“My junior year was a very tough year for me in basketball,” Polk said. “I sat the bench a lot. I’m a very proactive person and for me to sit back and watch my team and not be a part of the action was a difficult time.”
The answer for Polk, who was also rowing for her school at the time, but using it more for basketball conditioning, was to train harder for rowing.
“I kind of took the energy I wasn’t using on the basketball court and used it on the erg,” she said.
It was the right choice.
By the end of her junior year, Polk was rowing in a strong four for her school and knocking down numbers on the erg that earned her a berth on the junior national team and a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, where she was part of the team that earned the first NCAA team bid to the national collegiate championships in school history and won the varsity eight at the South-Central Region Championships in 2006.
It also helped her find a seat in the eight that won a gold medal at the 2008 World Rowing Under 23 Championships. She moved to the senior team the next year and won a silver medal in the four.
For the past two seasons, Polk has been in back-to-back gold medal winning eights, part of a string of six the U.S. women’s eight has put together under head coach Tom Terhaar. Today, she is training in the hopes of being in the eight that will try for a seventh win, this time at the Olympics in London.
And a lot of her success had to do with the lessons she learned sitting on a bench watching. “I remember sitting on the bench on the basketball team thinking, yes this is a team sport, but there is a lot of individuality. In rowing it was different.
“In a boat, you can’t tell,” she said. “Everyone has the same goal and is doing the same thing as best they can. And for me, it was more what I wanted. After I focused my energy on rowing, I just enjoyed it so much more and it was more of a team sport to me.
“I really like pushing myself and using my strength and my ability to help drive something forward. It is so enlightening and so addicting. The adrenalin in any race in any boat that you’re in, and especially in the eight, is just so awesome. To feel all eight oars just driving the boat forward and feeling everybody’s body as one and trying to go as fast as you can to reach that next level is incredible.”
Like just about everyone training to make the Olympic team, Polk is focused on only this year. What happens after this cycle is an unknown. She has thought about it, she said, “but I’m pretty indecisive in terms of whether to retire or not to retire.
“So I decided to just focus on one right now and see how it goes. It’s been an awesome journey thus far and every little goal that I’ve had has helped my ultimate goal and I hope to keep striving with that in mind.
“I can’t really say I will retire after this, or that I won’t, it’s still kind of up in the air. But I want to finish this one off, hopefully right in my mind, and then decide on what I want to do and where I want to take the step in my life.”
Polk graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in biochemistry . . . She was selected as a Division I First-Team All-American from 2006-08, a Second-Team All-American in 2005, was named CRCA First-Team All-Central Region from 2006-08 and she was named first-team CRCA All-Region in 2005…She was a 2005 Big East Academic All-Star . . . When she does finish rowing she would like to consider a career in the FBI in forensics . . . “I watch a lot of CSI and shows like that,” she said . . . It also might have to do with her time working security at the Morven Museum and Gardens in Princeton where she spent time making sure visitors didn’t touch the exhibits . . . She said she has never come close to an armed confrontation but did spend a lot of time “watching all the security cameras and making sure no shenanigans were going on. The customers tended to be of the older age, so I more politely asked them to step away from the artifacts” . . . When she’s not rowing or watching the museums guests, Polk enjoys entertaining her teammates by singing and dancing. “I really love dancing and my teammates like my moves.”