3-on-3: Row to Rio Edition!

In 3-on-3, our experts answer three questions and offer unique insights which have helped them and others along the way. This month, we talked to Devery Karz (2016 Olympic lightweight women’s double sculls), Steve Kasprzyk (2016 Olympic men’s eight) and Amanda Elmore (2016 Olympic women’s eight) and asked about their beginnings, their struggles and their excitement on the long road to making the 2016 Olympic rowing team.

How did you get your start in rowing?

Steve: “I got started with rowing as a walk-on at Drexel University. I never even knew what rowing was back in high school. I had been a swimmer for many years before that and figured I would try something new. My roommate in college told me he was going to try out for something called the ‘crew team,’ so I figured I would go and see what it was about. I remember one of the first things my novice coach told all of us when we were trying out. He said that he couldn’t teach us to row in a year, but he could get us to work hard and to love the sport and that would be enough. I walked away from that year with those lessons and I’ve been with it ever since.”

Devery: “In high school, I was a runner but did not wish to continue in college, so I turned to rowing. However, I did not find rowing until my sophomore year after really struggling though my freshman year. Not only did I feel as if I did not belong to something, I had also put on close to double the freshman 15. Oregon State women’s rowing gave me an opportunity to try out and be a part of something new. It was an amazing environment that kept me physically and mentally healthy. Oregon State got my foot in the door of the rowing community, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Amanda: “Both my brothers rowed in college at Purdue, so even though we didn’t have a junior rowing program in the area, I joined the team when I started at Purdue, too. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing but right away, I loved being on the water and competing with other boats. After a whirlwind couple months of learning to row, we had our first race at the Head of the Eagle. I have never been so miserable. It was a freezing, windy and exhausting race, but we won, and I loved it.”

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome in rowing?

Devery: “I would not say that there was one moment that was the most difficult to overcome. For me, it comes down to the accumulation of many little difficult moments or days. Being able to get through something mentally, physically or emotionally taxing on a daily basis can be a great achievement. One day, that challenge could just be getting out of bed and getting to practice, while the next could be getting through multiple races. There are so many small things that can really test your strength, from racing for your seat to managing your friends or families concern for your well being. This is not a sport of immediate gratification; it is grueling and time consuming. There have been many challenging moments that I have questioned why I am doing this, overcoming those difficult instants have made racing all the more rewarding.”

Amanda: “A lot of things are difficult about rowing, and the biggest thing I learned to overcome them all is patience. When I first came to the training center, I felt so behind everyone physically and technically, so I blindly pushed really hard to catch up. Within a couple months, I injured my back, which kept me out of the boat for a while. I was so mad at myself. I wanted to find a quick fix and get back to rowing. Spending hours alone on the bike, I learned to take a deep breath, care for my body, and not force more than I can handle. Improvements come with consistent training and many, many strokes. Now that I overcame that injury, I am able to handle little bumps in the road more calmly.”

Steve: “It’s hard to say what has been the most difficult. The difficulties have changed a lot over the years. Starting out right after college, I struggled a lot though. During those years, I was working a full-time engineering job at a small company, as well as training full-time at Penn AC. I was the only full-time employee at this company for a few years, and they depended on me heavily. My rowing teammates depended on me. I would get up 5 a.m. and train for two hours and then work during the day in an unheated and unairconditioned old factory in Philadelphia. It was below freezing in the winter and 100°F in the summer. After work, I would go to practice again and train for another two hours. I wouldn’t get home until about 8 p.m. most nights. I remember more than once being completely exhausted by Tuesday and saying to myself, ‘I just need to make it to Sunday afternoon, when I can rest.’ I was constantly torn between the work world and the rowing world, knowing that there were good people in both who depended on me, that I didn’t want to let down. My co-workers and teammates were always understanding and I wouldn’t have been able to make improvements and get to where I am now without their support and encouragement.”

When did you realize that the Olympics were in reach for you and what are you most looking forward to in Rio?

Amanda: “In 2012, I was first invited to under 23 team selection camp. Purdue is a club program, so I thought I was going to be so inexperienced compared to the other athletes from fancy NCAA programs. I realized pretty quickly that didn’t matter at all; rowing is rowing. I learned a lot that summer and made the eight that won gold in Lithuania. Before we left for racing, the under 23 eight got the opportunity to do pieces against the 2012 Olympic women’s eight in Princeton. We were all star-struck and giddy to meet our heroes in the sport, and I wanted to be like them. We did a time trial 4,500-meter piece, and I remember watching them pound down the lake toward us and then cruise by around the turn. We didn’t stand a chance. Now I can hardly believe that I’m one of the women in the Olympic eight. I can’t wait to race in Rio with the strongest and toughest women in the world.”

Devery: “The Olympics were always in the back of my mind, maybe more of a dream then a reality. That dream started to solidify slowly over the past year, but did not become an actual reality until the last 250 meters of the qualification regatta. When I saw the red buoys, I knew it was going to happen. It probably goes without saying, but the thing that I am most looking forward to in Rio is racing. It is another chance to put all of your training and work to the test. To see how far I can push myself over the course of a 2k.”

Steve: “I don’t think there was one defining moment where I realized it was a possibility. It was shortly after college, I remember. I wasn’t very good then, but never really knew just how far I had to go. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know I wasn’t very good or I might not have kept going! I tried to learn something from every coach I had and every rower I rowed with. Many years later, at age 30, I was fortunate enough to make my first Olympic team, the 2012 team. We came so close to a medal, only 0.3 seconds off of bronze. When I decided to give it another chance and train for Rio, everything was focused on getting back to that Olympic final and getting one more chance at it. That’s what I look forward to the most. There is still a lot of work to do between now and then to get that chance.”

Written by Jules Zane

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