When Louise Huuki arrived at Temple in 2014, she was a member of the cross country team. But when she graduates in May, the senior will have spent the past three seasons as a rower.
Huuki, a 5-foot-5-inch senior from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, joined the rowing team in the spring semester of her sophomore year and feels like she has steadily improved since then. To open the Spring 2018 season on March 24, Huuki competed in the Varsity 8 boat, the top boat on the team.
Huuki helped the Varsity 8 boat split a pair of races against Boston College and the University of North Carolina on the Schuylkill. The Owls’ Varsity 8 boat beat Boston College by more than five seconds. On Saturday, Huuki and the Varsity 8 boat finished second in a six-team race on the Schuylkill in the Murphy Cup.
“When I first joined the team, I was in the novice boat with a lot of other girls who had walked on,” Huuki said. “It made sense for me to be there then, but because of the improvements I’ve made, I’ve seen a big jump up in my team ranking. It’s been exciting and it’s nice to know that I have a solid shot at being in the V8 for the rest of the season.”
Before college, Huuki had no rowing experience.
Huuki ran cross country at Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She qualified for state competition in three high school seasons.
But Huuki had to give up running because of injuries to her knees and achilles at Temple.
She ran in four events in 2014, and she competed in the first three races in 2015. But then she missed three of the next four events, including the American Athletic Conference race. It hurt to quit the cross country team, Huuki said.
“I was never quite able to hit the times that I had been so used to hitting in high school,” Huuki said. “At the start of my sophomore year, I was really struggling with keeping up with the mileage as a whole.”
Cross country coach James Snyder wasn’t surprised by Huuki’s choice to leave the team.
Huuki always had a great relationship with her teammates, Snyder said, but she had trouble keeping up with the rest of the team because of injuries.
He added that it’s common for female runners to struggle to maintain times they made when they were younger because their bodies change as they grow.
“I think Louise was someone who was dealing with all of that and had injuries as a result,” Snyder said. “So, when she came in, she was never really able to train healthy during her freshman year with us.”
Despite the injuries, Huuki said she didn’t want to give up on having the student-athlete experience she expected at Temple.
“I remember when she had expressed an interest in trying to do rowing, coach Rebecca [Smith Grzybowski] had reached out to me to see what Louise was like,” Snyder said. “Obviously, I gave a glowing endorsement of who she was as a person. It’s really nice that she was able to continue her athletic pursuits and succeed as well.”
Huuki attributed her improvement on the water to her willingness to work on her form. When she first joined the team, she didn’t even know how to row, she said.
Huuki also needed to get used to the different impact that rowing has on her body. The legs, feet and ankles are heavily impacted while running, but rowing doesn’t take as much of a toll on joints and uses several different muscles, she said.
In her first few months, she focused on combining fitness with technique, she said.
“A lot of the workouts and training routines were similar to running in my eyes,” Huuki said. “So, while I was learning a completely new sport, it wasn’t a huge transition.”
“Dealing with everything four years ago wasn’t fun,” she added. “I wasn’t enjoying myself. It worked out well though, because mentally and physically, I’m in a really healthy position right now.”