Early before the sun rises at the Pete Archer Rowing Center, the Long Beach State Women’s Rowing Club bustle about the narrow boathouse, stretching and preparing their racing shell for another early morning practice.
The women lift the boat in unison, place it into the water, grab their oars and set off into the sun-lit water. The “Resolute” glides effortlessly as eight rowers and the coxswain propel themselves through the 2,000 meter course. A beautiful pink and orange sky acts as their backdrop.
Each morning the team is met with chilly winds and even colder splashes from the oars striking the glass-like water.
But that’s the best part, according to volunteer club boatmaster John O’Donnell, who rowed for the men’s team in the 1970s.
“A big difference from other sports is that there is no superstar on the team that’s going to be carrying the ball for the touchdown or anything like that,” O’Donnell said. “It’s either the whole boat wins or the whole boat loses. It is working, literally, in a team environment to get a job done.”
Dedication is the defining characteristic for this group of rowers.
“Why wake up at five in the morning if you’re not gonna put in the work, if you don’t want to win?” said Sam Dominguez, a fourth-year studio arts major.
Most athletes focus all of their determination, desire and will towards the sport itself, but this team rows for each other.
“It’s definitely not just magical chemistry that’s there, there’s work behind it,” former club rower and now-coach Megan DeVore said. “The [team] genuinely likes each other, and that’s helping them push for each other, and that’s really nice to see. I’m impressed by how well everyone gets along here.”
Such praise shouldn’t be taken lightly, as the club is the longest-running at CSULB, according to O’Donnell.
“We were rowing in 1958,” O’Donnell said.“By 1963 or ‘64 we were competing at the national level and were the alternates to the Olympic team.”
For a team with so much history and time spent in the water, DeVore said this group has a positive attitude that has developed into much more than just a team in the water.
“We all work as a team and I think age kind of becomes transparent because we’re all working for the same goal,” first-year art education major Gabrielle “Lil G” Brodowski said. “I was really interested in being part of a team where everyone is wanting to be together and rooting out for each other. I was really attracted to the adrenaline of it and just making sure everything went right.”
Even though she’s small in stature and had zero experience before joining, Brodowski is already one of the most prominent voices on the team after transitioning from a theater background in high school.
“Grab, send. Grab, send. Grab, send,” she instructed the rowers through the boat’s microphone.
Acting as the team’s coxswain, or the “brain of the boat” who is in charge of rhythm, steering and tempo, Brodowski plays a key role in making sure the team functions as a well-oiled machine.
“It doesn’t matter if you have eight beasts in the boat if you’re not together,” volunteer assistant coach Katrin Baverstock said, “if you’re not together, you’re inefficient.”
The unspoken bond between the rowers not only keeps the boat moving towards its goal, but gives the rowers a shared interest that leads to friendships and memories.
“I think it’s definitely a very beneficial experience,” Domiguez said. “Even joining a club sport in general, you create a bond and learn lessons that you don’t learn in a classroom. I think I have athletics to kind of thank for that, so I think a lot of people should get that experience.”
The women’s rowing club uses its time in the boat not only to enjoy the rigorous sport, but to get something more special from participating in such a co-dependant nature of sport.
“Before I was really shy, so now I got the opportunity to get out of my bubble,” said third-year health science major Stephanie Mendoza. “All of us have the same goal, and also we make each other feel better about ourselves and we’re a good team, so I appreciate the love and positivity.”
Instead of setting specific requirements or unrealistic expectations, the club looks to provide a solid group of friends to learn and grow with for anyone interested, no matter their background or physical attributes.
“I think the stereotype of a great rower is this bulky, 6-foot woman,” Brodowski said. “I think it’s someone who’s just wanting to be part of a team and wanting to be successful as an individual … but [one] of our best rowers, she’s 5-foot-1-inch, … she pulls her weight and she pushes and she pushes and she’s shown the most improvement that I’ve ever seen. It’s really exciting to see someone who may have an obstacle against them within this sport, but pushing to be the best.”