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Donohoe puts her back into college rowing

Posted: March 31, 2012 - 11:13pm
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Rachel Donohoe is in her sophomore season on the University of Santa Clara crew team.
Rachel Donohoe is in her sophomore season on the University of Santa Clara crew team.

Row, row, row your… err, wait a minute… stroke.. stroke..

If nursery rhymes were real life, 2010 JDHS grad Rachel Donohoe would have about five sung in her honor.

Not only did she complete four years of soccer for the Crimson Bears, and three years of tennis and one of volleyball but also somewhere in that time she found a liking for rowing a boat. Or rather a shell.

“My mom was a big rower,” Donohoe said. “She rowed in college.”

Donohoe’s mother, Kathy Hamblett, also was in the first women’s class of the coast guard academy and responsible for starting a women’s rowing program there.

“I thought it would be interesting to try,” Donohoe said. “I knew I wouldn’t be good enough in soccer or tennis. A lot of people come to college for a sport and are not able to compete at the college level, so they pick up rowing. Rowing fosters new athletes. It is a walk on sport and I really wanted to be part of a team. I like that family connection, plus I like being on the water every morning.”

Rowing is one of the oldest intercollegiate sports in the United States, yet rowers comprise only 2.2 percent of total college athletes. That is partly due to access to bodies of water. Rowing is also one of the most difficult sports and, like all NCAA Division-I sports, it allows little or no time for any other athletic clubs or competitions.

“I think it is the hardest sport I have done,” Donohoe, a sophomore at Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, Calif.), said. “It requires you to push yourself more than any other sport I have participated in. I have no time for anything else. I still try to kick a soccer ball every once in a while with my friends and I hope to do some intramurals later on.”

Donohoe compared rowing to cross country running; if that sport sprinted the entire distance, lifted weights daily for almost two hours and rowed from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. most mornings.

“It is a long distance sport but it is also a power sport,” Donohoe said. “We train year round.”

When in Juneau for summer break Donohoe runs, hikes and hits the stationary rowing machines.

“I tried to row a little,” Donohoe said. “But when you are in a single or a double and not with your team it is hard to stay motivated. You can push yourself as hard as you want to, but it is very much a mental sport also. You are moving in sync with the other people in the boat. You are pushing yourself as hard as you can but you are also aware of everything else going on in the shell.”

Donohoe was named to the preseason all-West Coast Conference Women’s Rowing Team on Thursday.

“I thought that was pretty exciting,” Donohoe said. “It is just my second year rowing.”

That alone makes that honor impressive, even more so when considering Santa Clara is picked to finish sixth in the West Coast Conference.

San Diego is the preseason favorite and expected to repeat as the WCC champions, Gonzaga is second, Saint Mary’s third, Loyola Marymount fourth, and Creighton fifth.

Donohoe was one of three sophomores named to the all-conference team, which included: Donohoe (Santa Clara), Michelle Geesman, Stephanie Jegat and Hannah Patrick (San Diego), Christine Koehler (Creighton), Teddi McGuire and Paula Welly (Gonzaga), Kat Regan (Loyola Marymount), Chelsea Serrano (Saint Mary’s), and Mia Tarte (Portland).

Donohoe started as a “novice” last season, meaning she had never been a competitive rower. She had done a bit of “sculling” in a double shell with her mom in the waters around Juneau. Sculling gives each rower two oars.

In college crew Donohoe rows in an “eight” plus a coxswain. Each rower has a single 5-10 pound oar and they face the stern of the 200-pound shell while the coxswain faces forward. Donohoe is a “starboard” so her oar is on her left side, but on the right side of the shell.

“Last year I had a really embarrassing moment,” Donohoe said. “It involved launching the shell.”

In crew, shells are launched two ways. A water launch involves carrying the shell on the team’s shoulders and they walk into the water and set it in the water. A dock launch involves walking the shell to a dock and placing it in the water from the dock.

As the only novice in the varsity boat last season, and after a water launch and practice, the crew had maneuvered to unload. This requires being close enough to shore to touch when you step out. In the bow Donohoe was not close enough and did a back flip out of the shell.

“Luckily it was just me and not the whole crew,” Donohoe said.

On Sunday Donohoe and her University of Santa Clara teammates had just finished the first meet of the Spring/Summer season at the San Diego Crew Classic. The event features over 120 teams in two days of competition.

“We didn’t do so hot, but that’s okay,” Donohoe said. “This is the first race of the Spring Season.”

The Fall season, which starts after summer break, is shorter and the distances rowed are longer, 5,000 meters. The Spring races are typically 2,000 meters.

“It is not like we ever are out of season,” Donohoe said. “We are always in season, but sometimes it is racing season. Like right now.”

Said Donohoe, “It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, so it makes anything else I try a lot easier. I know that if I can row I can do most anything.”

The 2012 WCC Rowing Championships will take place on May 12 at Lake Natoma in Gold River, Calif.

That event will have an interesting twist to it. Rachel’s sister Sarah is a freshman at the University of Portland and, yes, she rows on the crew team.

“We will be rowing against each other,” Donohoe said. “I am really excited about that.”

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