Jan. 11, 2013
SEATTLE - When current women's head coach Bob Ernst started taking his athletes to San Diego for winter training in 1993, Ernst was at the helm of the men's Husky crew program, and the current U.S. Olympic Training Center at Otay Lake had yet to be built.
In those days, the team manager slept in the trailer watching over the boats that were stored in the parking lot while they rented fishing boats for the coaches and launched the shells through the mud. What exists there today is a state of the art training facility that is dedicated to the development of current and future Olympians participating in sports including archery, rowing, BMX, sand volleyball, field hockey, tennis, track and field, and cycling. This is also the site of the Husky Crew winter training camp.
In college rowing programs, sending student-athletes to an off-campus, out of state facility is not an uncommon occurrence. A winter camp serves as a kick start for the spring season after many of the athletes have less time to train during finals and the holidays. At most schools, coaches take the entire team to winter training camp. Some use the same facility in Chula Vista while others use another training center in Florida.
What's unique about Washington Rowing's winter camp is that only a select few earn the chance to participate in this special opportunity to train at an Olympic facility. During the fall season, Ernst and men's head coach Michael Callahan challenge their student-athletes to earn their way to Otay Lake in Southern California. No spot at the camp is promised to any athlete--regardless of experience or age. With limited races in the fall this added reward provides continuous competition and extra motivation for Husky rowers throughout the fall.
The elite group included 42 members of Husky Crew, split evenly between the men and the women. Callahan and his staff took 18 oarsmen and three coxswains, while Ernst had 19 rowers and two coxswains. Seniors Sam Dommer and Madison Culp both earned their way to the camp and were excited to get back to training with their team after having to train on their own during break.
"I think everyone was really excited to get to training camp in San Diego," said Culp. "Winter break training can be a major grind for a lot of us who have to train on our own and push ourselves individually. It was awesome to get back to racing one another and finding that inner team competition again!"
"Before camp, I was very excited to meet up with the team again because we all have a really close bond," said Dommer. "Having time off is always nice but everyone was ready to start training and competing again. Having a competitive group really helps keep guys on track throughout winter quarter, and the winter quarter is where you win championships."
Small boat training was the main focus for both crews. The men concentrated on pairs and coxless fours while the women's training was geared towards technical development and high quality strokes. Men's assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Rick Gherst and women's assistant coach Conor Bullis were impressed with what their athletes were able to accomplish over the course of the week.
"We saw great technical improvement across the board for all our athletes that were there," said Bullis. "There was a very high level of focus."
Gherst and Callahan were pleased with the ability of their oarsmen to be dynamic and versatile.
"We changed rowing partners nearly every practice", said Gherst. "We were impressed with how well they complement each other. They can make a boat go fast regardless of who they're with."
Husky Crew winter training camp is as much about the training as it is about where they are training. The U.S. Olympic Training Center is a first-class facility that gives these student-athletes a glimpse of how Olympic athletes prepare to earn a chance to compete on the world's biggest sporting stage. With Olympic paraphernalia dotting every part of the facility, it is an inspiring place to be.
Former Husky rowers turned Olympians were around throughout the week, including Megan Kalmoe and Adrienne Martelli. The current student-athletes had the opportunity to spend time with these Husky Olympians and learn about their preparation and experiences--including getting out on the water and rowing with them. Aspiring Olympian and recently graduated Rob Munn ('12) was also training there during the week.
Besides getting to train in the sunny weather and favorable conditions, Ernst believes that this exposure to Olympic style training and access to these former Huskies is one of the most important aspects of having winter training camp at this facility.
"It shows our student-athletes that making it to the Olympics is not just a dream," said Ernst. "It's part of the process here at Washington. If you come here with the right motivation and you work hard you can be an Olympian."
Callahan echoes the thoughts of his counterpart.
"Being in an environment of high-level training inspires our guys to reach those levels,' said Callahan. "Many of our athletes have aspirations beyond college rowing and this is an important development phase for them. They have a chance to truly be excellent at something so [going to the training center] is special."
Winter training camp away from Seattle also offers the benefit of training without distractions.
"Personally, attending winter camp in San Diego is an amazing opportunity to start rowing without having to focus on school," says Dommer.
For the average college student, winter break is a time to give the brain a rest and enjoy having nothing to do. However, for the student-athletes that earned their way to the camp, it is something they all look forward too.
According to Culp, getting to see "her girls" and begin training with them again was the most important highlight of her week, saying that the short break apart felt like forever and she was ready to get back on the water with her teammates.
The week wasn't all business as the women soaked up the sun on the beach while the men took a hike above Otay Lake and the Olympic Training Center. Despite the fun, the athletes were still focused on the reason they were there. On New Year's Eve the women spent time at the home of one of the athlete's parents house, playing games and eating food; however, they were back at the hotel before 8 p.m. so they could get to bed for early morning training. The men were content with watching the East Coast ball drop at 9 p.m. and then hitting the sheets for their New Year's celebration, proving that these student-athletes are committed to doing what it takes to be the best.
Winter training camp served its purpose, as it inspired the athletes and elevated their fitness as Spring season preparation moves in to full swing. The trip also allowed Husky Crew to have some fun and train in the California sun before returning to "Husky Weather"--as Culp calls it.
Overall Culp believes that Husky crew did what they went there to do, but that it is only just the beginning.
"I think I can speak for everyone at the camp that training camp was a success," said Culp. "But it is only a precursor to the training yet to come here at home. It is an exciting time in our program and a lot is happening right now with the racing season right around the corner."