Before the early bird gets its worm, Gonzaga rowing has delivered its boats to the lake, completed its warmup and is on the water ready to row.
Practice starts at 6 a.m., but the athletes are rolling out of bed at 5 a.m., layering up for the elements, driving 30 minutes to the team’s boathouse on Silver Lake in Medical Lake to practice for two hours on the open water. This, all before most college students have begun to hit the snooze button.
“Our team is kind of known to get up early in the morning,” junior women’s rower Lauren McCallum said.
While workouts commence the day, they are far from the end of it.
In between classes, meals and academic responsibilities, GU rowers fit in an afternoon workout of weight training or indoor rowing on the ergometer followed by time spent in the training room, going through recovery or in physical therapy inserted into whatever free time remains in a day.
“You get really good at time management,” said Charlotte Lepp, a senior on the women’s rowing team. “It’s just a lot of fitting things in where you can.”
Training is nearly a daily task for GU’s rowers, although often no two days look the same.
As the seasons change, so too does the training regimen. Due to NCAA regulations, practice times vary between eight- and 20-hour weeks and unlike other sports, rowing isn’t limited to one season.
In the fall the teams take to the water for longer 5-kilometer races and in spring the races are shorter 2-kilometer sprints in preparation for championship season.
“There is no offseason,” Lepp said.
Even as the players get winter break and summer “off,” they are expected to return in top shape.
“It never stops,” senior men’s rower Ian Melder said. “We aren’t training in the summer technically, but there is a very strong expectation that you come back in shape and the difference between in-shape and in rowing shape are two very different things.”
In the spring and summer the athletes spend plenty of time on the water, but as the days get shorter and the air gets crisper, weather affects the practice schedule.
Water splashing off the lake begins to freeze to the athlete's body, sweat slips off into ice cubes and what little skin remains exposed becomes unbearably cold, yet the athletes row on.
“We ran straight into ice today, it was like a Titanic situation,” Lepp said with a laugh in an interview earlier this month.
At times, when fog blankets the lake and the sun has yet to rise, the teams will practice for hours while being barely visible to its coaches.
“[Loyola Marymount and University of San Deigo] we know are on the water every day, because they are California based, so we try to use that to motivate our team and make use of what little water time we get to the best of our ability,” McCallum said.
Once temperatures dip below 20 degrees and Silver Lake freezes over, the teams are forced off the water and indoors for months at a time until the weather outside becomes tolerable again.
The months of indoor training can be mentally challenging for the rowers.
“You’re not doing what you particularly want to be doing,” Melder said. “Erging, you’re not really playing your sport anymore, you’re really just cross-training.”
Even when they can’t be on the water and their training resembles little of what rowing actually is, the team constantly pushes its self to improve. Coaches demand growth, measuring athletes regularly with timed erg tests.
“It’s something we strive for as a team,” Melder said. “We want to get better, we have that drive to be the best team we can be and so it is trying to live up to those standards as best as we can.”
While nothing compares to being on the water, the team will do whatever it can to build cohesion.
At times the team will line up the ergometers, syncing up their motions on the machine or during warmups they’ll do squat jumps in unison.
“It kind of looks like a cult type of thing sometimes, but it definitely helps us on the water,” McCallum said with a laugh.
During the most grueling, arduous workouts, when quitting seems like the most ideal option, it is the teammates beside you that the athletes said get you through.
“There are times when you are in the middle of a piece and you don’t think you can do it,” Melder said. “What I find is when you’re in that hole, when I am facing that demon on your shoulder saying ‘You know what, just give up,’ it’s the guys next to me that keep me going … It is really that brotherhood, that building each other up that gets everyone through.”
Rowing is a labor of love for these athletes. Many aren’t on scholarships — on the men’s team, no one is on scholarship due to a GU decision to allocate funds elsewhere — they are voluntary participants in the grueling daily training regimen that develops these athletes into the champions they aspire to be and even amid the coldest days and the most difficult hardships, the passion pushes them forward.
“We love it and yeah it can be a struggle at times, but nothing that is worth happening comes easy,” Melder said. “I am going to look back at this time and I’ll remember the bad days for sure, but that is not the only thing I’ll remember and definitely not the focal point of what I remember. It's going to be the successes, the team building and the brotherhood.”