Indiana Daily Student

'It’s like a sibling rivalry': IU rowing puts trust at the bow of the boat

<p>The IU women’s rowing team practices Feb. 12 in Simon Skodjt Assembly Hall. To prepare for their competitions, the team uses indoor rowing machines called ergometers. </p>

The IU women’s rowing team practices Feb. 12 in Simon Skodjt Assembly Hall. To prepare for their competitions, the team uses indoor rowing machines called ergometers.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services recommends that an active woman in her early 20s consume roughly 2,400 calories daily. In the case of IU senior rowing captain Abigail Bogovich, that number hovers somewhere closer to 3,300. 

Then again, Bogovich’s definition of active includes rowing upwards of 150 kilometers every week. This extensive training increases a competitor’s endurance in more than sheer distance.

“I think rowing is a sport about who can endure the most pain,” Bogovich said. 

Just hours before each regatta, this looks like a bus load of young women shouting the lyrics to “This is Indiana” at the top of their conditioned lungs. Weeks of intense practices are devoted to meticulously cultivating robotic levels of synchrony, and the Hoosiers’ first test on race day is whether or not they can all stay in tempo. 

“We always play that on the bus ride to a race, and everybody gets really into it,” senior captain Paige Spiller said.

During a race, that pain generally lasts about seven minutes stretched over 2,000 meters. Bogovich and her teammates put in hours of work this winter to shave off mere seconds come March. 

For a school nested in the Midwest, this means relying on indoor rowing machines called ergometers. As frost slowly blankets nearby lakes and rivers, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall’s “erg room” is a cacophony of mechanical whirs punctuated by the occasional motivational shout. 

Many of those come from Steve Peterson, now in his 17th year as head coach. He said rowing presents the distinct challenge of being unable to contact his pupils with timeouts or sideline screams.

This places responsibility on the shoulders of the coxswain, the sole forward-facing crew member who serves as a de facto coach. However, the rowers' faith is far from blind. Peterson works specifically with the coxswains so they can make tough choices when necessary, correct or not.

“The key is they need to make decisions on the water,” he said. “Shy of killing somebody or crashing one of my expensive boats, there’s almost nothing that they can do wrong.”

Each command issued by the coxswain must then translate into a complete, uniform motion by the rowers. In a sport where an underperforming individual literally weighs her peers down, it’s crucial that each rower is in near perfect tandem.

Peterson said that fortunately for his group, this cohesion is the natural result of friendly intrasquad competition.

“It’s like a sibling rivalry,” he said. “They wanna beat their sister.”

In turn, the effort to outdo one another has forged a sturdy bond among the Hoosiers. 

“I want to work for my teammates,” Spiller said. “Camaraderie is really what keeps me going.”

Peterson will not truly know how much his team’s months of preparation have paid off until IU casts off at the Cardinal Invite in Oakridge, Tennessee, on March 14. Still, there are certain tell-tale signs of a unit that is primed to contend.

“They’re warming up and it’s a relaxed vibe,” Peterson said. “There’s music playing and they’re dancing around and doing all the goofy stuff that college kids do.” 

When he sees this, a singular thought enters Peterson’s mind.

“Okay, they’re ready,” he said. “We’re going to perform well today.”

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