March 10, 2009
PULLMAN - Wash. -
Roughly 18 years after rowing coaches conjured up the idea of an indoor rowing tank on the Washington State University campus, it now graces the ground floor of Bohler Gymnasium. The WSU women's rowing team started using the tank in February, though it is not officially completed as several details are still in the process.
With a project cost of more than $1 million, the tank stands out with its state-of-the-art design. Built and installed by a team of engineers from Boston, the tank's low friction surface, curving corners and six motors help to maintain ideal water speed (10 knots).
The 18-inch-deep water in the tank streams against the oars of 16 rowers, creating a realistic simulation of on-the-water rowing. All the water together, both visible and circulating below the surface, weighs approximately 100,000 pounds.
The overall impact of the new facility is yet to be seen, but head women's rowing coach Jane LaRiviere notes that short-term expectations are already being realized in the tank's initial weeks of use.
"It's been really fun to see kids fixing problems that they've had for a long time," LaRiviere said. "There have been numerous situations where I've said a couple of words or I've been able to touch an elbow or do something, and all of a sudden they do it correctly for a period of time and it's the best rowing they've done so far in their careers."
One such student-athlete showing improvements is senior rower Monica Teague:
"The tank is great because it gives us the opportunity to row in a stable environment. In the tank, each rower can focus solely on their individual technique issues, whereas in the boat, at least a fraction of each rower's attention must always be paid to the general feel of the boat. As a result, we need to pay special attention not to develop bad habits while practicing in the tank. When we're on the river, Coach LaRiviere is in a boat 30 feet away, and although she has an eye for catching problems from a distance, it's often difficult to understand exactly what she wants you to do to fix them. The tank allows her to have a sometimes-literal, hands on approach to coaching and this bridges the gap in communication between coach and rower. It has already helped me reshape my stroke in a very short amount of time."
The tank is used daily by student-athletes from every level of the rowing program, and has proved helpful in various ways.
"We have discovered it to be a useful tool as some of the student-athletes are able to get in and do rowing with one hand," LaRiviere said. "Or an alternative if they're injured is to row anyway just on a different side, so there seems to be some rehab purposes."
LaRiviere also commented on the potential of the tank to impact the long-term success of the program she inherited more than six years ago:
"We are hoping it's impressive to recruits. We are hoping it retains more novice rowers. We are hoping technically we can improve. Short-term, it's definitely going to allow for a continuity of training that is sometimes absent with us not being able to get down to the boathouse periodically because of snow or inclement weather."
The majority of Pac-10 opponents don't have severe weather in the winter to interfere with training, therefore having no need for a tank, although Oregon State practices in an outdoor tank. Northeastern schools often travel to warmer states during winter break to get more practice time on the water while their local rivers and lakes are frozen. Many other schools across the nation use rowing tanks, including Brown, Harvard and Wisconsin. The Cougars now look no further than Bohler Gym for weight training, ergometer testing and real-time rowing practice this winter.
"Already, the tank has had visible positive effects on our transition back onto the water," Teague said. "Our training is where we build our success and so far this year, we have put in some tough hours and valuable strokes. I am excited to see where our hard work will take us, and what we will achieve."