Chance encounter leads ballerina into Varsity 8 boat

Coach Rebecca Gryzbowski met grad student Emilie Mehler at the gym one day.

Graduate rower Emilie Mehler (left), performs in “La Sylphide” at Abington Friends High School in June 2010. COURTESY KIM MEHLER

Rebecca Grzybowski is always looking for athletes to join her rowing team.

As she walked off the treadmill at the Temple University Fitness Center, she noticed Emilie Mehler on the rowing machine and approached her about joining the team.

The two stayed in touch throughout Summer 2013, and eventually Mehler became a part of the team’s Novice 8 boat as a sophomore in Fall 2013.

After four years of experience on the team, the graduate student now races in the Varsity 8 boat. Mehler made the jump to the boat as a junior thanks to her background in ballet and theater.

“I’m really glad I went to the gym that day,” Grzybowski said. “And I’m glad I said something, because a lot of times you see women around campus and you’re like, ‘She looks really athletic.’ And sometimes you’re busy and don’t say anything, but I opened my mouth, and I’m glad she said yes.”

Mehler has practiced ballet since she was 3 years old at the Metropolitan Ballet Academy in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. She continued to stay involved with ballet and theater throughout grade school and high school.

Mehler’s mom started the musicals at McKinley Elementary in Elkins Park. In Mehler’s first musical in fourth grade, she played Amaryllis in “The Music Man” — a Tony Award-winning show that debuted in 1957.

Mehler didn’t know all of the time she spent in the ballet academy and theater would help her rowing career.

Posture in rowing is vital to the way a boat of eight or four can work as a unit in the water. If one rower is out of rhythm, it will have a negative impact on the unit, Grzybowski said.

“As a dancer, everything is kind of naturally very tall and supported and sort of the way you carry yourself is very graceful and elevated,” Grzybowski said. “So you recognize that right away when you see how she carries herself.”

Grzybowski wasn’t the only one to notice Mehler’s posture — the rest of her team did, too.

One day at practice last year while they were on the rowing machines next to each other, sophomore Ciara O’Sullivan told Mehler she always tries to sit like she does.

“The way she carries herself from ballet, I thought that was pretty intimidating,” senior Lea Millio said. “Just the way she sits and stands. We were all like, ‘Why is she doing that?’”

Once Mehler joined Millio on the Varsity 8 boat as a junior, she always sought rowing advice. Mehler also brought a new perspective to the boat because she didn’t have any prior experience, which helped the rowers collaborate and grow together, Millio said.

Initially, Mehler was terrified when she made the switch to the Varsity 8 boat, but as a graduate student, she hopes to guide the team’s younger rowers.

“Every year the boat changes, and it may change drastically or it may change not that much,” Mehler said. “But either way, the type of people who you tend to get are the really, really driven, really, really fit and athletically inclined.”

“I think those people have really helped me grow in the sport,” she added. “It’s just been a wild ride.”

Tom Ignudo can be reached at or on Twitter @Ignudo5.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.