The final push

The rowing team held an intense training event Friday – possibly the program’s last.

Members of the women’s rowing team pull back on ergometers, indoor rowing machines that imitate the actions of rowing. The test was the fourth and final one for the squad this season. | Edward Barrenechea TTN
Members of the women’s rowing team pull back on ergometers, indoor rowing machines that imitate the actions of rowing. The test was the fourth and final one for the squad this season. | Edward Barrenechea TTN

It only lasted about 24 minutes.

But when the event ended, the women’s bodies were soaked in sweat and their faces were reeling in agony while ice bags were strapped to their arms, legs and shoulders. It was the moment the 55 student-athletes were waiting for.

“I am just so glad it’s over with,” junior Moira Meekes said, chewing on an apple.

After five months of fall and winter training and competitions, the rowing team completed its fourth and final 6K ergometer test this past Friday – and, if the athletic cuts aren’t reversed, the final in program history. The erg test was used to measure the rowers’ endurance level and their mental strength during a course of 6,000 meters. Most importantly, however, coach Rebecca Grzybowski said the erg test is used by the coaching staff to help select women for certain boats.

“There are a lot of factors that goes into boat selections and lineups and erg scores are definitely a part of it, in terms of how much power you can produce over a certain time or distance,” Grzybowski said.  “So that helps us to start to get groups of people together.”

Far away from any body of water, the women were tested in the weight room of McGonigle Hall on ergs – indoor rowing machines designed to imitate the actions of rowing on water. About 21 ergometers were spread across the upper level of the weight room in front of a mirror that spanned the width of the wall. A fan was placed in the front left corner of the room.

The rowing team was split into two groups. The first group started their erg test at 4:30 p.m. The second group began about an hour later. With the women sitting in the sliding seats of the ergometer and Gatorade bottles directly behind the machine, Grzybowski offered her team some words of encouragement before the test started.

“The first race is 43 days away,” Grzybowski said. “You all have personal goals you want to set. Picture a boat in your head – reach out and grab it.”

Immediately after, music began playing in the background and the women slowly went to work with their feet strapped to the footrest and hands gripped to the ergonomic handles. With the test lasting more than 20 minutes, the rowers paced themselves as they pushed the handle and the seats slid back, extending their legs. Then they pulled the handle as the seat slid forward, bending their knees and leaving their legs upright. They continued the routine as they steadily increased the stroke rate while shaving meters off the distance.

The erg screen showed statistics such as stroke rate, meters left, time past and the speed in which the rower is going.

“You want a rate of 26 to 28 stroke rates per minute,” Grzybowski said. “Some people, it’s a little bit lower. It just helps you to establish a rhythm, and as you take the stroke rate up, you tend to get a little bit of a speed out of it.”

As they increased their stroke rates with about 3,000 meters to go, the pain began to build. The atmosphere in the weight room changed quickly. What was once a calm place for the rowers to focus on maintaining their stroke rate turned into a race course with roaring fans – the teammates – rooting for all involved.

Grzybowski, along with assistant coaches, graduate assistants, coxswains and volunteers began shifting their positions in the room and examining the erg screens of the rowers who were losing strides. Words of encouragement flooded the room.

With less than 1,500 meters to go, some of the rowers looked brutally exhausted, sweat streaming down their faces, seeming mentally fatigued.

But there were some individuals on the team who were injured, walking around on crutches and in leg braces, which weren’t enough to stop them from cheering on their teammates, saying, “That’s it, take control, you can do this,” among other reassuring words during the test.

The rowers said the support was beneficial.

“That is awesome because in the middle of my piece, I get in my head and think negatively like, ‘I don’t know if I can finish,’ and then you hear them cheer you on and tell you where you should get your number,” freshman Jenna Bahel said. “So it’s really helpful for me.”

When they finished, some immediately tried to catch their breath and grabbed their Gatorade bottles, while others began munching on fruit or nutrient bars. There was a collective sigh of relief, and smiles and high fives were shared throughout the room.

“I got the quick recap of the first group and 14 out of about 22 people got personal best,” Grzybowski said. “We definitely had a lot of PRs in the second group too.”

Danielle Nelson can be reached at or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.

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