Rowing for scholarships, camaraderie

May 6, 2010

The sport of rowing is underrepresented in the city and suburbs of Milwaukee, but nonetheless, some area students are rowing their way right into Ivy League schools.

The Milwaukee Rowing Club Juniors has about 50 crew members and competes against other clubs around the country. With the hope of college and the love of the sport in their eyes, students labor over oars as they skim along the Milwaukee River.

Whitefish Bay student Chloe Karaskiewicz said she initially joined the Milwaukee Rowing Club because of the possibility of receiving a scholarship to a prestigious college.

"I thought it would be a good way to help get me into college, but once I joined, it became about so much more," Karaskiewicz said.

Juniors head coach Peter Helfer said many of the juniors of the past have received scholarships to prestigious universities.

Last year alone, students received scholarships to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Notre Dame University, Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This year the club has juniors heading to Brown and Dartmouth universities.

"We are not designed to send people to rowing colleges, but it's a perk," Helfer said.

Rowing is one of the oldest Olympic sports.

The club will compete this summer in Boston, Tennessee, Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities, as well as in Cincinnati, where it will attempt to qualify for nationals.

The juniors finished fourth in nationals last summer and hope to improve on their performance this summer.

"It is a challenge every day, but the good kind," Karaskiwicz said. "We are always around each other, it's like we just eat, sleep and row."

The club practices year-round including using an indoor gym with 50 ergometers, or rowing machines. Crew members practice four days a week during the offseason, but Helfer holds morning and afternoon practices five days a week during the summer.

"They have rowed 10 miles before most of their friends have gotten up for the day," he said. Rowing in four-man teams, the club practices on the Milwaukee River, Menomonee River and Lake Michigan.

Helfer noted that one of the reasons the sport isn't particularly popular is that some people view it as elitist.

"It is always associated with Harvard or Princeton, and that is too bad," he said. "We have people from all walks of life or all different types of situations."

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