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Three From the North Discover Crew

By Jessie Fredlund ’07

Three rowers from Alaska (l to r): Julia Nave, Julie Olson, Victoria Fraser

In Alaska, where rivers are frigid and icy for almost the entire year, crew isn't the competitive sport at the collegiate level that it is in the lower 49.

Yet for three women from the 49th state, who traveled 3,000 miles in August to join Smith’s class of 2010, crew has become an important part of their college lives.

First-years Victoria Fraser, Julia Nave and Julie Olson are from three different cities in Alaska and did not know each other before the semester began.

They do now.

Though none of them had any rowing or boating experience in their background, all three women were interested in crew before arriving on campus. Smith gave them their first chance to try the sport, and within their first week on campus, they joined the team.

Nave, who grew up in Juneau, the Alaska state capital, learned about crew from her mother, Susan Cox ’78, who rowed for Smith in her student years. At the time, crew was a club sport.

“When my mom was at Smith, they just went back and forth in Paradise Pond,” Nave related.

Now, Smith crew is a full-fledged, competitive team sport that has taken two consecutive silver medals in national competition in the past two years. Still, crew coaches encourage students with little or no experience to come out for the team. The welcoming feel Nave sensed from coaches at Central Check-In as they recruited new team members helped motivate her to sign up immediately.

Olson grew up in Fairbanks, the northernmost of Alaska’s three main cities. She knew nothing about rowing until she came across the term “crew” in a list of possible extra-curricular activities while filling out college applications last winter. She can barely even swim, she admits.

Olson became intrigued after asking her high school librarian what crew meant and talking with her teachers about the sport. She was attracted to crew’s reputation for being fun, but also intense. Olson was also eager to sign up in her first week at school.

Learning to balance crew with schoolwork and a job has been a challenge, says Olson, but she plans to remain on the team in future years.

Growing up in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, Fraser often heard about crew from her father, a former rower who follows the sport. After her acceptance to Smith, Victoria learned from her father about the college’s well-known team.

When Fraser met team captain Kim Paull ’07 during pre-orientation, she was persuaded to give the sport a try. Since then, she’s been hooked.

The intensity of the sport has been no deterrent to Fraser. She enjoys the group of students the sport attracts -- those committed enough to stagger out of bed at 5 a.m. six days a week for a rigorous workout on the Connecticut River.

“What’s different about crew is that everybody loves it almost the same amount,” she says.

By the Fate of a Willow Tree
As teammates and classmates, the three Alaskan students have become friends since the start of crew season, though they didn’t realize at first they were all from the same state.

It was on the way to crew practice one day early in the season when Nave and Olson discovered they shared a home state. Walking across campus, Nave ran to see a willow tree -- nonexistent in Alaska’s northern clime -- up close for the first time.

Olson followed, explaining that it was also her first time seeing a willow. Looking at the tree together, they each quickly guessed the reason for the other’s excitement.

Although being so far from home isn’t easy, the three students are happy with their decision to come to Smith.

“I love the people and the feel of it,” Fraser says about the college.

Nave agrees: “It makes being on the East Coast and being so far away from home much easier.”

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