Liz Setlow is a new advocate of rowing.
The South Whidbey High School sophomore said, “Being one with an entire team of people is something everyone should experience.”
Setlow, 16, began rowing with the Everett Rowing Association in February with a little coaxing from her friend Katie Neschke, 17.
“I saw it on the Olympics and I thought it looked cool,” said Neschke.
Last summer Neschke took a rowing course from Lake Union Crew in Seattle to decide if rowing was worth the time and investment. By the time Neschke completed the summer class, she knew that was the sport for her.
But the long drive to Lake Union led her to look for something closer to Whidbey. After finding the Everett group online last fall, Neschke quickly convinced Setlow that she would enjoy competitive rowing and they joined the Everett group in January.
Now, at 2 p.m. every weekday Neschke and Setlow catch the Clinton ferry to make the trip to Everett. They travel to Langus Riverfront Park on the Snohomish River to a boathouse filled to the roof with rowing shells and oars.
High school students from all over Snohomish County, clad in Spandex and sweats, drive into the parking lot, ready to spend another cold and rainy afternoon rowing.
Neschke heads out with the women’s lightweight 8, a slender boat named for its eight-member crew. Under U.S. Rowing Association rules, to compete in this category each woman must weigh less than 130 pounds.
An eight shell, which can carry more than three-quarters of a ton (1,750 pounds), can weigh as little as 200 pounds. The boats are made of a fiberglass composite material and are about 60 feet long. A one-person boat, called a single shell, can be as narrow as 10 inches wide but nearly 27 feet long and weigh only 23 pounds.
A coxswain, pronounced cox’n, gives directions to get Neschke and seven other rowers onto the dock, and within minutes they disappear up the Snohomish River.
Setlow is teamed by her coach, Brian Wanezek, to row in a novice 4 shell. Her coxswain quickly assembles the four rowers to get organized and ready to bring the boat down to the river.
“Hands on,” the coxswain yells.
The four novice girls put their hands on the 115-pound boat, ready to pull the shell off the metal rack.
“Up and out … careful,” the coxswain calls.
They ease the boat out of its resting place, and pull the shell up to their shoulders. They are directed to walk out of the boathouse, where they wait in a long line of shells and crews to get on the river.
Once the dock is free, they carry the shell to the river, push it up over their heads and slowly tip it toward the side of the dock. After the shell is placed gently in the water, the girls scramble to put oars in the oarlocks and leave the dock.
“One foot in … and down,” the coxswain says.
Synchronized movement is vital when four people have to get into a small shallow boat simultaneously.
The girls first adjust their foot rests, where they lace their sock-clad feet into two shoes that are attached to a stationary footboard. The coxswain settles in to her seat in the stern of the shell, and adjusts her cox box so the rowers can hear her throughout the workout.
Once they push off from the dock, the coxswain gives the command and oars dig in to the water. With each pull, the rower’s legs propel her sliding seat toward the front of the boat. At the end of the stroke, the oar slips just above the surface, the rower pulls herself back to the starting position and prepares for the next stroke.
The girls join dozens of other shells on the water preparing for a regional competition a couple days away in Vancouver, Wash. Shells with one, two, four or eight people glide past, looking effortless. Coxswains can barely be heard from the dock, firmly calling to the rowers to pick up the pace.
While Neschke and Setlow are practicing on the water, dozens of athletes practice on land before it’s their turn to row. Each athlete typically spends half of their practice on the water and half conditioning on land. While doing land workouts, rowers run “the loop” along the Snohomish River, lift weights and row on the ergometer.
Kristi Pederson, who coaches the ERA novices, admits that rowing can be an expensive venture, almost having become an elite sport. Pederson said the spring season for the junior rowers costs approximately $380, and another $90 for team uniforms and gear. To participate in weekend regattas, each rower pays an additional $80-$90 for race fees for each event.
Pederson said the cost of rowing can be well worth the effort for many rowers who go on to collegiate rowing, sometimes on scholarship.
The team travels from British Columbia to Oregon to compete against other rowing teams, and often spends the whole weekend racing.
Additionally, Neschke and Setlow have to pay the ferry and gas costs to make the trip from Whidbey Island. They both agree that the time and money spent to row every day is well worth the effort. Setlow said she has signed up for the summer rowing program so she has a better chance at making the varsity boat next season.
“I want that extra edge,” said Setlow.
Setlow said she is applying through South Whidbey Principal Mike Johnson to receive physical education credits for the three hours a day she spends working out. If Johnson approves the proposal, Setlow could earn as many as one credit per 135 hours of rowing practice.
“This is really my first exposure to organized sports,” said Setlow. “I liked this idea better.”
Neschke, who is homeschooled, agreed that rowing every day is a huge commitment. Neschke also participated in the Everett Rowing Association’s winter conditioning to prepare her for the intense racing season, roughly from March to May.
“The commitment is very very large, especially being on the Island,” Neschke said. “You’re dedicated until it’s over and you’re doing something every weekend.”
Both Setlow and Neschke said they hope to remain involved with rowing in the future.
“Once you get on the water, it’ll click or it won’t,” Neschke said.