Elaine Tierney could barely do a pull-up when she walked into Temple University Athletics’ weight room for rowing tryouts during her freshman year, head coach Rebecca Grzybowski said.
“In the first few weeks that she was on the team, she worked her way up from our novice squad to our varsity eight boat as a freshman,” Grzybowski said.
Now a senior, Tierney’s continuous hard work and dedication to rowing since joining Temple’s program in 2017 has earned her a spot on the United States Rowing Under 23 National Team, where she’ll compete at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Racice, Czech Republic from July 7 to 11.
Tierney and her rowing partner, Emily Mollins, a junior at Stanford University, competed in the lightweight double scull race at the 2021 USRowing Under 23 team trials in Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida on June 15. The duo finished in first place with a time of 7:30.54, beating every other team by 19 seconds.
Tierney met Molins early in her collegiate career at a selection camp in 2019, and the two continued rowing together as they participated in camps each summer, she said.
“There are so many times you’re in a boat, and you don’t want any underlying feelings that you can’t get over,” Tierney added. “Being able to roll with the person that makes you the happiest, and you really want to pull forward and do the best work besides for yourself is important. That’s why we work.”
Tierney missed the time slot to qualify for the USRowing Under 23 team in 2019, and was determined to increase her training this year in the water and the gym to make a comeback at the team’s 2021 trials.
The biggest change in her training once she came into Temple’s program was lifting and finding coordination in the water to work with a new class of rowers, since in high school Tierney was used to rowing with the same group, she said.
Grzybowski recognized Tierney had made progress in her training when she would come into the weight room and beat a personal record each time on the rowing machine, she said.
“She can bang out 15 or 16 or 20 plus pull-ups now, and she’s not afraid of the hard work,” Grzybowski said. “She leans into it in a way that sets her apart and allows her to do some really special things.”
Tierney also focused heavily on improving her speed and endurance during her training because collegiate races are longer than high school races. In college, the standard rowing race is 2,000 meters, compared to high school where it’s 1,500 meters.
“Rowing machine results are more elite rowing,” Tierney said. “I was slow in high school, going like a 7.55 [minutes to row 1,500 meters]. Then coming into my freshman year, like, dropping down to a 7.26 [minutes to row 2,000 meters] was crazy, so being able to hit that and then make camp, that’s when I realized that I could do this.”
Collegiate-level rowers primarily practice in sweep boats, which carry four or eight rowers at a time. This meant Tierney had to prepare to compete in the double scull race at World Rowing Under 23 Championship on her own during summer camps, adding another challenge to her training besides adjusting to the COVID-19 protocols at training facilities, she said.
Luckily, Tierney had her teammate, senior Gabby DiMarco, alongside her at the summer camps, where they both prepared to compete in trials for Worlds. DiMarco admits she always glimpses over at Tierney during workouts, because she knows how to properly approach training, DiMarco said.
“We kind of work off one another,” DiMarco said. “There’s a lot of workouts where we both look at each other when we’re done and we’re like ‘I couldn’t have done that if I was by myself right now,’” DiMarco added. “So having her there always made things a lot easier, especially when it’s so competitive.”
DiMarco finished second in the women’s double sculls final by just under four seconds, but did not qualify for Worlds.
“[Tierney and Molins] are the fastest doubles in the world,” DiMarco said. “I mean, I’m a little biased, but I just can’t imagine anybody being faster than them. She and her doubles partner will do very well at Worlds.”
After competing in Worlds, Tierney will return for a fifth year in the Owls’ rowing program using the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s eager to get back and see what her and her teammates can achieve, she said.
“Temple is always perceived as the underdogs and I think we embrace that, we’re always fighting to do the best that we can,” Tierney said.
Despite a shortened 2020-21 season, Temple’s program improved this past spring in comparison to previous seasons. Tierney helped Temple’s varsity eight finish second at the Kerr Cup on April 17 and earn a bronze medal at the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta on May 8 for the first time since 1999.
“My passion just kept growing,” Tierney said. “I started to see results through training and my coaches certainly started to point stuff out to me and kept me on this track of progression.”