Sun staff writer Gracie Todd sat down with junior men’s lightweight rower Henry Ellis to discuss Cornell rowing, influential people and hippos.
This transcript has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
1. Why did you choose Cornell?
Ithaca is home for me and that is nice. My mom works at Cornell as the director of communications for the grad school, and my dad is with eCornell — so I can say hello to my parents whenever I want. My family had a large impact on my decision to come here, along with being recruited for the team. I’d say the other factor was that I really aligned with the team’s values here.
2. What is your favorite place in Ithaca?
There is this place up the lake called ‘crowbar.’ It is marked by log pilings that signify the first big bend in the lake. It is across from the salt mine. It’s about a five-mile row from our docks. For a lake, the water really moves there due to shape of the land and depth of the water. It’s hard to row so it’s tough to get to, but the view is breathtaking.
3. The decision to come to Cornell paid off, as last year you became a national champion as a member of the varsity eight. What did that accomplishment mean to you?
It meant everything. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. Everyone in the league was so good. Pennsylvania and Harvard were extremely fast and all the crews, first through sixth place, were fighting for position is a single pack … all had the opportunity to win. We came out on top and it was terrific. There was such relief, so basically if we win, I’m happy about it.
4. How do you mentally prepare for a competition?
I wake up and do a lot of breath-holding exercises, and this places me in a good headspace. It’s meditative and strengthens my lungs. Just 10 minutes of that usually and I’m ready to go.
5. Who is a teammate you admire and why?
Charles Mencke, a sophomore, the heart and soul of the team. He’s got the best attitude on the team and is so genuine. No matter how hard or unhappy things get, he’s always got a smile on his face and he always delivers when the heat of performance is on, like race day.
6. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done for your sport?
Freshman year, during my first legitimate weight management cycle in the spring, I ate too many eggs in a day. It resulted in a horrible skin rash and an odd medical condition that was easily treatable. The funny thing is I still enjoy eating eggs.
7. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
I’d say probably a hippopotamus. Just because you don’t mess with a hippopotamus.
8. What do you see yourself doing after college?
I have no idea. I’ve been so focused on academics and rowing that I haven’t had the chance to think carefully about what I want to do. Future Hank definitely wants a career but current Hank just wants to row fast boats and study hard.
9. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a coach?
More of a lesson in the brain’s ability to govern physical body — [assistant coach Bill Brumsted ’11] created a workout by design so that nobody could succeed. The pacing was so ambitious that most of us thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t. We did it, it hurt a lot and nobody on the team hit their targets. Advice was there, but it was definitely a lesson that was not easily forgotten on the limits we place on ourselves.
10. What has shaped you into the person you are today?
I always strive to challenge myself. I take the hardest classes I can, and I read and apply non-traditional physical training techniques even though I know I may not succeed. I came on to this defending national championship squad as a middle/low level recruit from a small high school program. So I have tried to become the best version of myself rather than what I already was. I see every challenge as an opportunity and I enjoy the discipline of the process.