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By Eric Weld   Date: 9/7/11 Bookmark and Share

Warning: Crew May Be Habit-Forming

Crawling out of bed at 5 in the morning, schlepping droopy-eyed to the shore of the Connecticut River and taking a hard seat in a boat in cold water well before the sun rises may not sound like a preferred way to start the day.

But for more than 80 Smith students, members of the novice and varsity crew teams, it’s the only way.

There’s something about the crisp early morning air, the sound of river water lapping against the crew shell, the blare of the coxswain’s voice and the camaraderie of spending every dawn working hard together that gets under the skin of those who join crew.

“Imagine sitting at breakfast knowing you have accomplished so much and worked so hard, even before most of campus even wakes up,” says Karen Klinger ’87, head crew coach, who spent most her undergraduate mornings that way.

It’s not easy to explain the appeal to new students arriving on campus at the end of August, few with crew experience. But Klinger and her team members do their best.

As entering first-years line up with their parents, waiting to enter Central Check-In at the Indoor Track and Tennis facility, Klinger and her assistants present all the benefits that accompany joining the Smith crew team—including the shared experience of learning something new and becoming an athlete, sometimes for the first time.

About 80 percent of Klinger’s new recruits each year have no experience when they enter Smith. Klinger can relate—when she first arrived at Smith in 1983, she had no idea of the feeling of pulling together in a shell, either.

But, as she has witnessed every year since becoming the head crew coach in 1997, it doesn’t take long for the sport to occupy an important place in the lives of many who try it.

“I was a jock when I arrived at Smith,” she recalls, “then I found the sport that was mine and became an athlete. After rowing and coaching for 28 years, I still enjoy the thrill of a boat that moves well, of muscles used in unison, of absolute dependence on teammates.”

When Katharine von Herrman '11 first arrived at Smith, she was looking for a way to stay in shape for skiing season, as a member of the varsity team. She was hooked on crew right away and went on to join the varsity crew team in her sophomore year, competing in the NCAA Championship tournament.

"I stayed because I loved the people, the sport, being outside and working together to push yourself and each other," said Herrman, who remained a varsity skiier and crew team member throughout her Smith career, and was named NCAA Woman of the Year this year.

This year’s crew team is excited about competing at the national level, says Klinger, and bringing in the next generation of team members.

The Novice Crew team meets for the first time this Thursday, Sept. 8, at 5:10 p.m. in Ainsworth 151. All are welcome, and no experience is necessary.

For some there, it may be the start of a whole new life.

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