Toward the end of March, The Cornell Daily Sun published an article written by Anna Hooper ‘25 on the Cornell Women’s Rowing team’s performance at the Doc Hosea Invitational. While seemingly innocuous, the points in the article that implied how the team supposedly performed poorly feel out of touch, as someone very familiar with the team. I once again find myself pleading for all to be kinder to student athletes and recognize their achievements. While I’ve discussed this subject before, I’d like to share more about what it truly means to be a student-athlete, and why articles like this aren’t an accurate depiction of where a team is currently at.
Sports aren’t just about performance in terms of times or standings; those are merely a goal. Athletes simply spend too much time for a medal or a trophy to be the sole driving factor behind why we participate in our sports. Sure, at the end of the day, results are what we’re all chasing. However, in order to make it to that end goal, there needs to be motivation for each individual day, each individual training session — motivation even when there are no results to show for it.
Throughout my time here, that is something that the Women’s Rowing Team has been working incredibly hard to maintain and cherish. I came to Cornell as a recruited student athlete for the team and am proud to have raced for Big Red many times. I stopped racing with the team last August, just prior to my senior year. Ever since, I’ve still been around the team almost constantly in a supportive role as the team manager. Needless to say, the rowing team holds a special place in my heart.
The pandemic has been incredibly hard for everyone, but especially for student athletes. I vividly remember in spring 2020, when the Ivy League first announced it would be canceling all competitions for the season. It was 3 p. m. on a Wednesday. I know this, because that morning we had been on the water for seat racing (a competition between teammates). Hours upon hours of training sessions all suddenly became meaningless a mere seven hours after the conclusion of that morning practice. Everyone I knew, including myself, was devastated.
I could not be more proud of the girls who are out there now, representing Cornell Women’s Rowing. I’ve seen those girls work harder than anyone thought possible when no one was watching; I’ve witnessed lots of those early morning training sessions, and I’ve seen all of the emotional turmoil that happens behind closed doors.
In the end, even if the results are seemingly lackluster, somehow it’s always worth it. Because to me, and to many other student athletes, the team is so much more than just a group of people trying to win shiny things. The team becomes your family.
In the instance of the Doc Hosea Invitational, and every race since, just the mere fact that we’re able to race at all is a win. Steve Cappola, the current head coach of the women’s rowing team, is relatively new. He joined the staff in the fall of 2019, and therefore the current season is Coach Steve’s first championship season with the Big Red. He’s an incredible coach and has helped the Big Red make some tremendous strides as a team over the past three years.
Furthermore, all teams are constantly in development; this is clearly evident from the quotes included within the article written by Hooper. Just because a team is developing does not mean that the performance itself was bad or even unexpected. Each race is a learning opportunity, particularly races early in the season, and the team is working hard while also staying optimistic and proud of their achievements. It’s not fair to disregard an athletic performance just because it’s compared to a standard of someone unfamiliar with the sport and the circumstance.
It is also important to keep in mind just how competitive college athletics can be; women’s rowing is certainly no exception. The Ivy League is regularly one of the most competitive, with the top finishers consistently placing high in national standings. To race at this level is an achievement in and of itself. That’s something all of us are proud of.
The Cornell Women’s Rowing team has a thriving culture of tradition, determination and respect that my class has worked incredibly hard to continue even with the turmoil that occurred over the past four years. Please don’t diminish that because there isn’t a trophy to show for it.
Lorelei Meidenbauer (she/her) is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at lmeidenbauer@cornellsun. com. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester