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Westhem: Discovering a fandom for a new sport

As I was writing the weekend’s rowing recap last night and spending way too much time on GoStanford and texting rowing friends asking them to explain different details of the sport to me, I started to feel a little bit guilty.

Even though I am a huge sports girl in general, the only sport that I have ever had great enthusiasm for covering has been women’s basketball. I felt like I was cheating on basketball by putting so much effort into my coverage of Stanford rowing. I guess I’ve found a sport to dedicate myself to in the offseason.

And honestly, rowing is such a cool sport if you take the time to learn the logistics and terminology. I don’t know when the last time a Daily sports writer took rowing on as his/her beat, but for the next two years — at least while I’m here — they’ll get coverage.

And so this helps to explain why for the entirety of last week I counted down the days — and even hours — until Saturday. Yes, I was looking forward to Linner like everybody else, but that’s a given. And okay, I was also looking forward to the start of Big/Little Week.

But actually, I was really excited to go to the annual Big Row against Cal at Redwood Shores.

Some people warned me that regattas aren’t as fun as they seem, but I was just super excited to cheer on the teams that I had started covering and finally see what it is that my friends spend so much time doing and talking about. (I’ve come to learn that basically all that rowers talk about is rowing.)

I got up super early Saturday morning and drove to Redwood shores with my friend who was a coxswain on the men’s team last year — except that she was used to going straight to the boat house (which is not where you want to watch the races from) so we barely made it there for the start of the lightweights. I spent the morning scrambling between taking pictures for The Daily, getting quotes for the recap, cheering on my friends and trying to view the races from every possible position (there were three).

And what made the day so great was that I actually knew what was going on. I talked to a friend, who also happens to be a rower’s girlfriend, about the lineups and finishes. People around us were pretty impressed that we actually knew what we were talking about.

Also, it’s a very different experience and environment than covering a women’s basketball game. I got to be outside, instead of in a gym stuck behind the scorer’s table, talk to the coaches in between races, stand right at the launch site in the wide open, interview the rowers right when they got off the water and enjoy the social aspect of the sport. So many Stanford alumni were there cheering on the Card and everyone was so invested in the races. Who knew that Stanford rowing had such a following?

It was also cool to hear the coxswains yelling at the rowers to motivate them and to actually be able to discern what they were saying. Seeing these men and women exert so much energy for a five to seven-minute race and leave it all on the water was impressive as well. Each boat stayed on the water for at least an extra fifteen minutes to cool down.

I’ve been to the end of the men’s training sessions after they’ve spent all their energy on a hard erg piece, and I insist that they sit when I interview them because it’s apparent it’s hard for them to stand.

But race day brings a whole new level of emotional and mental exhaustion that comes with competition. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that rowing is a sport that requires incredible mental strength — especially when the lineups aren’t gelling and it takes a whole season of seat races to figure out who works well together. It’s a game of mixing and matching until you find the right combination of rowers to make the boat move. When you find that combination, it’s worth all the frustration and energy spent to get there.

Meeting someone on the rowing team last year and slowly meeting more and more rowers this year was what piqued my interest in the sport, but that mental aspect and strategy involved has kept me hooked.

And then of course my day was made even more perfect by Linner, which must have a pretty good reputation around the Bay because word has it that the Cal men’s rowing team dropped off their boats in Berkeley and then came all the way back to the Farm. All in all, not a bad Saturday.

Word on the street has it that Chiney Ogwumike is disappointed in Ashley for devoting so much attention to rowing coverage. To tell her why she’s making Chiney sad, contact her at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu and Tweet her @ashwest16. 

About Ashley Westhem

Ashley Westhem is the voice of Stanford women’s basketball for KZSU as well as The Daily’s beat writer for the team and aids in KZSU’s coverage of football. She has been a desk editor for three volumes and now serves as Managing Editor of Sports. She is an American Studies major from Lake Tahoe, Calif., and aspires to work in sports administration, to positively affect the lives of student-athletes and the relationship between the athletic and academic spheres of universities.