From Yellow Boats to Red, White and Blue Blades
July 13, 2012
Each passing freshman was wondering what those long, thin, yellow things were set up all over campus. They looked like they were resting in some kind of makeshift director’s chairs. They had the word “Dirigo” on the side, another unfamiliarity.
None of the questions really ended up mattering; it was impossible to avoid any of the tall people who were excited to flag everyone down.
“All of our recruiting is putting a couple boats on campus and recruiting the kids who come to Purdue for education,” said David Kucik, Purdue University’s head coach and director of rowing.
It’s an aggressive recruiting strategy used by several club rowing teams, hoping to find the next batch of talent, and it works for Purdue. The Boilermakers perennially field one of the largest teams in the country. Amanda Elmore, who will be competing in the women’s eight for the United States’ under 23 team this week, was one of those novices in 2009.
“I can’t remember ever not liking rowing,” Elmore said. “The first time we did erg pieces, I remember thinking that I liked the strength and power that it took to get the numbers to go down. I also liked rowing in a barge for the first time and realizing that rowing is a lot harder than it looks.”
Elmore wasn’t blind to rowing like many college freshman; her two older brothers also rowed in West Lafayette. But with so many faces coming and going every year, it’s a challenge to stand out from the crowd. She was the one that stood tall.
“Her novice year, when we mixed practices, she was already beating the majority of varsity women on pieces,” said Sandy Calfo, Purdue’s head women’s coach.
Calfo, a Purdue rowing alumnae herself, actually rowed during the same era as Elmore’s brothers in the late 1990s.
“When I saw her, I told her I rowed when your brothers rowed,’” Calfo recalled. “And she said, ‘yeah they told me I could do gymnastics and running (in high school), but once I hit college, I had to be a rower at Purdue.’”
Elmore will return to Purdue as a senior this fall, but right now she’s applying her talents on an international scale.
Still, no one could have predicted back in 2009 that Elmore, a club rower, would be representing the United States this summer.
Purdue is in the minority in women’s collegiate rowing. It is a self-funded club team and is not one of the Big Ten conference’s seven university-funded programs. Of the 29 female athletes that will race in Trakai, Lithuania, Elmore is the lone rower representing a club program.
“I was very nervous coming to camp because I thought that everyone would be in a completely different league,” Elmore said. “But after a few days, I realized that even though some athletes get more perks from their rowing experiences, we are all just girls and want the same thing – to make a boat move fast.”
It’s a thankless job, being a club rower. They don’t get scholarships or other financial assistance. They aren’t offered the help of on-campus sports trainers or academic centers. They certainly aren’t supplied with slick, flashy apparel received by NCAA varsity athletes.
But Elmore is proof that lack of funding and other benefits can’t suppress the combination of raw talent and an infallible work ethic.
“She’s one of those people that, given a little, she’ll make not only a lot out of it, but everything else she can,” Kucik said. “You could give the same input to 10 people, and Amanda would stand out and get the most out of it.”
Even after four years at the club level, Elmore will still have a year of eligibility left to row in graduate school. Considering her U-23 appearance this summer, she’ll undoubtedly garner interest from several NCAA schools.
“There’s a ton of good athletes in the club programs,” Kucik said. “I’m sure there’s probably going to be some schools who are looking to recruit Amanda to do graduate work in a division one school.”
The switch to an NCAA team would be sure to pay off, yet there’s a feeling of ownership that comes with the club demands. There’s something rewarding about working hard in order to, well, work hard. Evidence of this is Elmore’s additional duties she’ll take on next year as team rigger, where she’ll be in charge of organizing trailer loading, cleaning the boathouse and fixing equipment, among other responsibilities.
“Sometimes the work is a little bothersome, but overall it makes the boathouse feel more like home, and we appreciate the place as our own,” Elmore said.
In her three years, Elmore has been part of the gold medal women’s eight at the Dad Vail regatta in 2011. She’s raced at the Women’s Henley Regatta and stacked up several medals. Next in that sequence would be winning a medal in Trakai.
So does this club rower have the ability to mix things up in the following Olympic cycle?
“I wouldn’t have any doubt about that,” Kucik said.
“Before coming to this camp, I never considered a future in rowing.” Elmore added. “Now, I can’t imagine stopping after I graduate.”