A hero is very abstract term. It may be defined as a figure such as super man, or maybe a mentor you look up to. This past fall I discovered the true meaning of the word. Case in point, Jillian Costello, California Berkeley Coxswain. She is my hero. If you have not read the article, published through Sports Illustrated, take some time to do so (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1178822/index.htm). Jill is the most courageous, driven, and inspiring person I have ever heard of. Her story made me re-evaluate my reasons for rowing, and forces you to take a step back and look at life from a different angle. Jill's battle against lung cancer and how she raced the spring season of her senior year is truly one story that will touch whomever reads it. It is also an epic story of how the Cal team came together in support of its sister; it should really be made into a movie. Here is an excerpt from the article: "At 500 meters it was Cal by a nose. At 1,000 it was Cal by half a boat length. It was there that Lofman noticed something unusual: a dab of scarlet just below Jill's nose. Then the smudge grew, blood snaking toward Jill's upper lip. Jill saw the fear in Lofman's eyes and knew what had happened. With a quick, disdainful motion she wiped away the blood with the back of her hand. Lofman felt a surge of energy course through her. "It was like she wasn't going to let her body stop her from doing what she wanted to do," says Lofman. Already close to maxing out, Lofman dug even deeper."
Read it, it will rock you to the core.
Speaking of heroes, there is one coxswain in particular that is a household name with anybody involved in the rowing. I am, of course, referring to Mary Whipple.
Last year at the California Crew classic, a teammate and myself were gathered for the coaches and coxswains meeting. I heard a voice from behind me, and from listening to a number of her tapes I knew it was the Olympian herself. Meeting Mary was something I'll never forget; she was so down to earth and inspiring to talk to. Whipple is the current National Team coxswain and has competed in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic games, and will also race in 2012 at London. I am deeply humbled that Mary took the time to answer a few questions for the blog. It was great to get some insight before the kick-off to our spring season.
What is a favorite memory you have from coxing in college?
I have a lot of great memories from college. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of races while at Washington. The memories that stick out always include friendships, team BBQ's, practice, and traveling for races. The community that forms from being on a rowing team is special and teammates truly do become like family.
How do you keep your rowers motivated when you are down in a race?
Believing in each other and your race plan helps me stay motivated. A good crew will feed off each other and back each other up when they are down to create momentum that will help them work back into the race. As a coxswain, I have to create 'buy in' from all my rowers so the upcoming move brings us back and to the finish line first. I do that by thinking of things that I would want to hear. That way, I truly believe in what I'm saying and it comes out sincere and passionate.
What has been your favorite race (or races) thus far in your career?
It would have to be the 2008 Olympic race. It's not only because we won, but also it was the way we started out the day, the feeling we had before the race, and especially during the starting sequence. It all came together and it felt amazing. Winning was definitely the bonus. Overall for me it is my favorite race because of how we got to the line, the journey is what made it my favorite.
the biggest mistake you've made on the water and how did you deal with it?
The biggest mistake I've made on the water was hit a buoy. Not just any buoy, it was a huge buoy that we had to leave on our Starboard to make a turn during a head race on my home water. Since I knew that course like the back of my hand and proceeded to take the turn like I have always done everyday in practice, I neglected to notice that the race officials decided to put a safety buoy before the channel marker that makes the real turn. The buoy was right in my blind spot...right in front of me. We still managed to win, but it was totally embarrassing.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between coxswains and their rowers?
My only thought is that they are my teammates and I would want to be considered the same by them. They have a role in rowing and my role is to steer and organize. Both roles need to be executed in order to make boats go fast.
What was your favorite part about the Beijing Olympics?
Other than the race, being able to watch other events and living at the Olympic Village was pretty fun. The dinning hall was the happening spot to be and hang out, especially the McDonalds. There was always a line for egg McMuffins in the morning.
advice for collegiate athletes looking to continue on to the National Team?
The erg is your friend. Having a good erg score will get you the invite to train with the National Team and continuing to make progress on the erg will give you more opportunity to be in fast boats and with fast partners.
- Gayle Lewallen, Freshman, Exploratory Major