Junior Rower: Sophia Staal- My Rowing Experience as a Walk-On Athlete at DUKE
It was the first week of freshman year. I was dazed and confused, wandering from class to meal to class without any direction. On my third day of school I auditioned for a play. It was a disaster, I definitely did not get a callback, and it dawned on me that the interests and activities that had defined me in high school – theatre and music – were beyond my reach here; I simply could not compete. So I took a different approach. Someone had put up flyers around my dorm and at the dining hall that read “Tall, athletic, or tough enough to make up the difference? Come try America’s oldest collegiate sport!” followed by a picture of some people rowing. Before this point, I had given approximately 5 minutes of thought to the sport of rowing in my entire life. Looking back, I cannot tell you what inspired me to write down the email address on that poster and send a message saying “I’m tall and athletic, I’ll try out.”
When I showed up for ‘practice’ the next week, I didn’t know what an erg was called, or how to use it. I didn’t know what a coxswain was, or how to spell it (who does?), and I also believed that I was joining a club sport. It has been two years and two months since that day, and a lot has changed. I have not only learned how to use an erg, but I have come to love this strange, seemingly torturous apparatus, just like I have come to love everything about this strange, incredibly difficult, beautiful sport. I went from thinking “I’ll just try this for one year” to thinking, “four years is not enough give me more!” It is the most challenging, most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I cannot even imagine my Duke experience without DWR.
I know how lucky I am that fate put this opportunity in my way. But I am even more grateful because I get to be part of this team now, when we are right on the verge of achieving something amazing: going to the NCAA Championships. It is a huge goal. But when I look around me at practice, and see my teammates crushing it every day on the erg, in the boat or in the weight room, there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to achieve it.