“Rowing is a sport of perseverance,” said West Virginia freshman rower, Colleen Giesbrecht. The future of the West Virginia women’s rowing team looks bright as ever with a competitive novice squad full of youthful rowers willing to learn and push themselves mentally and physically every day.
Giesbrecht, originally from St. Catharines, Ontario, played almost every sport she could while growing up. When the opportunity arose for her to try rowing as a new sport, she jumped in headfirst.
“When I was 10, my mom signed my older sister and I up for a ‘learn to row’ camp with St. Catharines Rowing Club. I absolutely loved the camp and did it for two more summers,” Giesbrecht said.
“Then my sister joined our high school rowing team her freshman year. That summer, she rowed competitively with St. Catharines Rowing Club and I volunteered at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, which is a very competitive regatta on our home course, Martindale Pond,” she said.
“When I was volunteering one day, I saw a St. Catharine’s boat come off the water with gold medals around their necks and as they walked up the dock everyone started clapping and I thought, ‘I want to win this race and have people clap for me.”
When she got to high school, Giesbrecht’s career began to take off. She fell in love with the sport of rowing and rowed during the spring, summer and fall with no off-season.
This was how Giesbrecht developed as an athlete and knew she wanted to pursue an opportunity to become a college athlete at the DI level.
After speaking with head coach Jimmy King, West Virginia quickly caught Giesbrecht’s eye. She wanted to become a West Virginia Mountaineer.
“I had been emailing coaches and met Coach King and Coach VO (Stacey Van Order) at the Henley Regatta. From there it was a typical recruiting process. I came to WVU for a visit in the fall right before early signing week and then signed less than a week later,” Giesbrecht said.
Although the grueling practices and endless hours spent training can sometimes be difficult, the fact that there is no off-season, especially for a sport as physical as rowing, is a motivational tool when learning to persevere.
“We have to train inside on the ergs for the winter and staying motivated can be very difficult some days when all you want to do is be out on the water,” Giesbrecht said.
“As of right now, I am just focused on finishing up this season and the next three years here at WVU. In the future, I will definitely stay involved with the sport whether that be through coaching or continuing to row.”
As her freshman year at West Virginia comes to a close in just a few weeks following the Big 12 Championships, Giesbrecht says her first year has been a rewarding experience, to say the least.
“It has been a very rewarding experience being on the team here. The team has been very welcoming and made me feel very at home here,” she said.
“My best memory so far this year was putting on the West Virginia uniform for the first time. It was so exciting to be representing my school for the first time and my family came to watch so that was really special.”
"I never expected to immediately be in the varsity eight coming here," said Vander Hoeven. "It's amazing. I am rowing with such high-class rowers. It's such an honor to be in the boat with the other girls. It's unbelievable."
Vander Hoeven stepped on campus and earned her spot quickly in the top boat for Syracuse. At the Princeton Chase in October, Vander Hoeven held down the fourth seat in the crew's first competition of the 2014-15 season. She has been a member of the first varsity eight boat in every race since.
It's been a quite a journey for the St. Catharines, Ontario native. In high school, she started out playing ice hockey. Her science teacher, who happened to be the rowing coach, convinced her to try out for the sport and she excelled early and kept with it.
"Hockey and rowing are both team-oriented," added Vander Hoeven. "In rowing, you are even closer to the team. In hockey, you are always with the team, but in rowing you are doing the same thing, working together to make one unit and make the boat go as fast you can."
Similar to many of the international rowers on the Syracuse squad, Vander Hoeven's prior rowing experience came in smaller boats. She actually rowed in a double in high school with her cousin. Those times in smaller boats have certainly prepared her for the rowing aspect of being a student-athlete.
Vander Hoeven came to Syracuse with a heralded prep background. She helped her team to consecutive Stotesbury Cup and CSSRA Championships gold-medal finishes in 2013 and 2014. Now, she would have to undertake the challenge of balancing academics and rowing at Syracuse University.
"It's really different than high school," commented Vander Hoeven. "It took a lot of adjusting in the beginning, but I think I have gotten the hang of it now. We have great support. The tutors in the Stevenson Educational Center are amazing and I have found that to be very helpful."
One of the other things that has aided her in the adjustment is the support of her teammates. Vander Hoeven earned a spot in the first varsity eight crew quickly. The upperclassmen certainly made her feel at home and aided her in the transition process.
"They have been really great," stated Vander Hoeven. "They have really wanted everyone to feel comfortable and like they are a part of the rowing family. It's been really nice."
Vander Hoeven and the No. 17 Syracuse women's rowing team race at No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday morning. The Orange will also take on No. 13 Michigan and Michigan State in its final race of the regular season.
"This is really new for me," concluded Vander Hoeven. "I hope we can make NCAAs. That is the goal for this season. We are trying so hard. Doing well this weekend will really help move us up in the rankings. We are all just trying as hard as we can."
St. Catharines Rowing Club
The St. Catharines Rowing Club has a long tradition of competing at the highest level in the sport of rowing.