March 5, 2002
By Charles Trillingham
WSU Sports Information
It's late in the afternoon, rowing practice is almost over, and the sun has sunk behind the canyon walls. She smiles as she steps out of the water with her teammates, sweat and water dripping off their clothes and chills that set in a long time ago, tease the goose bumps on their skin.
It has been another day of hard work, but Corrie McGrath laughs for the same reason her teammates laugh, because they love to row.
"Even when it's cold and rainy, I just don't know what my life would be like without rowing," said McGrath. "It feels like you are part of a bigger culture when you are a rower."
At Washington State University, McGrath is one of many reasons the traditions of Cougar rowing, and WSU athletics, will be sustained for years to come. McGrath is a junior majoring in Psychology, with a minor emphasis in sociology. In her three years as a member of the rowing team, McGrath has been honored with a 2001 Pacific-10 all academic first team award, rowed in a nationally-ranked varsity boat, and for two consecutive years was selected for the CRCA west region first team.
"The coaches' look at where you are rowing and how your sport is doing in the conference," said McGrath. "It is really nice to even be mentioned for an award that's voted for by the coaches."
Success didn't come to McGrath right away. Years of hard work and a little bit of luck helped her find a sport that fit her. That sport was rowing.
"My freshman year in high school, I didn't play any sports," said McGrath. "I did ballet for four or five years until I got big and clumsy, but I heard someone talking about rowing and I asked about it, and got a phone number. My mom and dad only had a couple of days to get the money and they had to drive me to Everett everyday where the club rowed. It helped that two of my friends were also in rowing. I just got out there, and loved it"
McGrath gained four years' club experience against teams from all over the region including Snohomish, Cascade, and her hometown of Marysville. Coming to WSU, McGrath was a veteran student-athlete. She credits WSU, hard work, and her teammates for her Pac-10 All academic first team award.
"WSU athletic services does a really great job of providing academic services as far as tutors and study groups, talking to our professors about exams, and providing laptops for when we are on the road with hectic schedules," said McGrath. "Being a student athlete requires us to have time management. Thankfully, I have at least one teammate in every one of my classes, which helps us study together."
Camaraderie is crucial to the sport of rowing. The team is comprised of boats, not individuals, and McGrath finds inspiration from her teammates and how hard they have to work. "I love how when you are in a large boat and everyone is rowing together you can hear the bubbles in the water glide across the hull between each stroke," said McGrath. "It is really great to know the boat is powered by all of us and the feeling when we all come together as one is indescribable."
McGrath has had the opportunity to row on nationally ranked boats and compete against some of the strongest competition United States and Canada. The challenges of the Pac-10 motivate her and the team to take their performances to the next level.
"To get an opportunity to race against the University of Washington is a chance for us to compare our level of racing against them," said McGrath. "Our goal in Pac-10 is that we are second only to UW, and that we can tackle them later. All we have to do is pick off everyone else, and meet them at Nationals."
McGrath acknowledges the 2002 squad is a really young team, but as a group, they have a lot of potential, a high learning curve but a great coaching staff that can take them to the next level.
"I would love to row at nationals because it would be great for the team, for WSU, and for everyone," said McGrath. "To be able to take that next step and get there as such a young team is a tremendous opportunity."
The drive to win is an individual goal for McGrath, as well as a team goal for WSU rowing, but sometimes the thrill of the chase, and the realization of a great moment as a group, is motivation enough.
"Rowing is so intense, 2000 meters of an all- out sprint, that still takes six or seven minutes," said McGrath, "There are no timeouts, no pep talks, no time to breathe, it is just go."
The unpredictable weather conditions at any regatta give the fans as well as the athlete's experiences they won't forget. Fierce rain and winds can play a factor at the biggest events like the annual San Diego Crew classic, which invites squads from all over the nation to compete.
"Sometimes rowing becomes `survival rowing' like last year at the Crew Classic," said McGrath. "It was like whoever can get across the finish line without having there boat sunk." The intensity at these events are so high, and competition at such a high level, that, according to McGrath, there are only two things that rowers can hear, the coxswain and the crowd.
"I think coxswains are an awesome source of motivation, and they really are a ninth member of your team," said McGrath. "They can see the blades in the water and are the only ones who can communicate to us while we are sprinting."
The attendance at some regattas is high and the fans desire to see the rowers compete compels the competitors to put on greater performances.
"If people could come down to the water when we host Oregon State March 30, it would be great," said McGrath. "It's amazing when fans are there and cheering for you. Even though there aren't a lot of things we hear out on the water, we can hear the crowd as we get towards the line."
If Corrie McGrath had her way everyone would try rowing at least once. As a member of the WSU rowing team, she will settle for sharing the passion and love she and the cougars experience on the water, with the fans on the shore.