May 24, 2011
SEATTLE - Family dinner conversations at Erin Lauber's household tend to skew towards rowing.
Lauber hails from a clan steeped in the tradition and excellence of Husky crew. Parents Dave and Madeline rowed for Bob Ernst at Washington, and the connection grew even deeper when Lauber's younger sister Hannah joined the team as a walk-on earlier this year.
Following a fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships, Erin and the Huskies are headed to the NCAA Championships this week in Gold River, Calif., beginning on Friday afternoon. The 6-2 junior feels as if her boat has clicked on some speed this week in practices, and is excited about the opportunity placed in front of her.
"I think the team morale and how we've been practicing has really improved," Lauber said. "It'll be exciting to see the changes that can be made on a grander scale." Yet Lauber had no real interest in the sport growing up in nearby Edmonds, Wash. Her parents certainly didn't push their children towards the oar, allowing them to create their own paths.
"If we had been musicians, I think they would have been a-ok with it," Lauber said. Lauber instead focused on volleyball and basketball, and also did ballet and Irish step dancing. There was never any drive to row simply because she had the size for it. Her only experience with the sport beforehand was watching Windermere Cups and the Class Day Regattas with her family.
Ironically enough, though, all three Lauber children ended up rowing. Lauber's older sister Robin rowed at San Diego State.
Lauber joined the Huskies as a walk-on, her interest piqued when Ernst made the switch to the women's program after winning a National Championship with the men in 2007. What also helped was the Laubers' familiarity with Ernst. The long-time Husky coach also lives in Edmonds and the two families would often run into each other at basketball games, parades, etc. He would occasionally scout Lauber's volleyball games at E-W, and the offer was always there to give rowing a shot.
Lauber has seen her career trajectory rise sharply in the three seasons she's rowed at Washington. Now a fixture in the team's varsity boat, Lauber is headed off to train with USRowing this summer for an opportunity to row in the U-23 world championships in Amsterdam. Lauber is now part of lofty company at Washington as a former walk-on now representing their country at an international rowing competition. The last two Husky captains - Kerry Simmonds and Adrienne Martelli - were both walk-ons who have gone on to represent USRowing internationally.
"She likes to race," Ernst said. "She's working really, really hard at trying to realize her potential as a big-time rower. We realized she had the aptitude for the sport as a freshman when she moved up to the varsity squad at the end of the year."
Ernst feels Lauber is an ideal walk-on: tall and athletic, preferably with a multi-sport background. But she also has the drive to succeed, the intangible that separates the good from the greats in the sport. Part of the makeup of a successful rower is a borderline obsession with competition. The fiery Lauber fits those criteria, although she's the first to admit her passion for sport sometimes bubbles over when she's frustrated.
But what Lauber has that most rowers don't is a pair of knowledgeable, sympathetic ears to vent her frustrations. Her parents often serve as a sounding board for Lauber after a tough practice or race, and both come with the added benefit of having rowed for Ernst. Lauber joked that mostly their advice consists of "suck it up" or "deal with it," but it helps to lean on two parents who are so acquainted with rowing. Sometimes, Lauber's mother will remind her that she not only rowed in college, but worked in the summer and still managed to pull a 4.0 GPA. Conversations with Dave don't always start with rowing, but Lauber said they always manage to end up there.
Heading into her first season at UW in 2009, Lauber felt her parents offered her a distinct advantage by prepping her to embrace the lactic acid pain that comes with rowing. As a freshman, she targeted teammates on scholarship and tried to match them on erg pieces.
"They're kind of pushing me and I want to get ahead of them because they've done it before," Lauber said. "It becomes a friendly competition in a way."
Lauber said she's been grilling Simmonds about the U-23 experience, and while she's excited she is tempering those emotions with the NCAAs on-deck. But the route from walk-on to USRowing national team member is something to be lauded, considering her late push to the sport. Once Lauber made the varsity boat late in her freshman season, her and Ernst set up a plan that could help put her in position to make the jump. This included hard work on the ergs, countless hours of video and a focus on rowing in the pair, which included pair of wins at the Club National Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the summer of 2010.
"She has a bright future," Ernst said.