April 28, 2011

Crump Journeys From Walk-On to Varsity 8

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As the regular season draws to a close with only one more race before Eastern Sprints, the seniors on the women’s rowing team will be facing the bittersweet end of their Cornell careers.  Three rowers on the first Varsity 8 are seniors — co-captain Natalie Wingerning, Audrey Ahlholm and Erica Crump.

Crump, the No. 2 seat on the first Varsity 8 boat, never expected just how important rowing would be to her. A Biology major from Switzerland in the College of Arts and Sciences, Crump took the mandatory swim test during Orientation Week freshman year, and was approached by a rowing coach after getting out of the pool. The coach running the test advised her to come to the introductory meeting on rowing. A complete newcomer to the sport, Crump decided to give rowing a try, since she played volleyball and rode horses in high school, and wanted to maintain a similar level of physical fitness in college.

“I thought I would give it a shot, and I really enjoyed being out on the water,” Crump said. “I found it to be an escape from my academic life, and Ithaca in the fall is gorgeous. I didn’t consider myself a rower until the first race in the spring … Now it is a huge part of who I am. It has changed my schedule, my life and my summers and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Rowing, which started out for Crump as merely something to try, morphed into an essential aspect of her Cornell career. Crew provided her with a structured schedule and something to look forward to everyday, she said. Every aspect of her life, including eating and sleeping habits, was dictated by rowing. As such, Crump had to learn how to balance her copious amounts of school work with rowing.

An in season rower has practice six days a week for two hours at a time, drift lifts twice a week and two morning rows per week in smaller boats to focus on technique. Some rowers supplement these mandatory practices with extra running and erg workouts.

Freshman year, Crump walked onto the novice team — a unit comprised entirely of freshman. Crump made the first Varsity 8 boat in her sophomore year with one of the fastest erg times, and has maintained a spot on that squad since that point. In the period after Crump first joined the team, the Red has become faster as a whole, which places pressure on the top boats and promotes increased intensity across the board, she explained.

“Sophomore year I was one of the faster people in that boat, but now we have a lot of people moving up,” Crump said. “We have a lot of pressure from lower boats, which is awesome. It only makes our program faster. There is just so much more intensity on our program now. Two years ago our Varsity 4 wasn’t as competitive, and now there are people fighting tooth and nail to make that boat.

Last year, the Red narrowly missed receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA championships. The teams are selected through a complicated process, complete with a selection committee tgat bases the decision off all the boats’ performances during the season and at Eastern Sprints. This year, Crump and the rest of the team have made earning a spot at the championships a top goal. The motivation has never been higher for the Red since last season was such a close call, she noted.

“There is a very exciting energy on the team right now,” Crump said. “Last year being so close and not getting the bid hurt, but it lit that fire. It’s really exciting, especially since it’s my senior year and it’s the last shot and last opportunity.”

Nearing the end of the season, Crump knows that graduating and leaving the Cornell team will be very difficult, but the impact that rowing has had on her time at Cornell will always remain with her. Although Crump does not plan on rowing competitively after college, she hopes to crew recreationally, in order to maintain her athleticism while in medical school.

“I will miss being a part of the team,” she said. “It’s really awesome when you know you are out there in a boat with eight other people working for the same thing, day in and day out. I can’t think of anything that will replicate that feeling.”

For now, Crump is focusing on this weekend’s race — her last home race.

“Dartmouth has always been a strong crew and they’ve been building their program,” she said.

“They are always one step ahead of us. We think we can catch them, but we haven’t yet … We think this year is the year we can take them down.”

The Red will challenge Dartmouth for the Parents’ Cup in the last home race of the season this weekend at 9 a.m. at the Cayuga Lake Inlet.

Original Author: Nicole Wagner