Coach Spotlight

Michele Africa

08.Aug.2006

We've been lucky to have Michelle with us since 2001. Regular campers who visit us in the early part of the summer will immediately recognize her and probably have a couple of Michelle stories to tell. She also appeared on one of our brochures several years ago, so you may recognize her from her stint as Craftsbury cover girl.

Michele began rowing during her last year at Humboldt State University. Michele got into sculling in Seattle and started training in Victoria, BC in 1999 for the single. Michele is two-time bronze medalist in the 1x at the US National Rowing Championships and has won both the championship single and the 500-meter dash at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Michele has coached for Moss Bay Rowing Center and also for the Gorge Rowing Center in Victoria BC in a variety of programs including learn-to-rows, the junior program and for Camosen College. Michele has also helped coached the novice women at Humboldt State University. After all of her travels rowing in the U.S., Canada and Europe, she considers Humboldt to be her home with her dogs Frankie and Oly and partner Chris.

CSC: How did you start rowing/sculling?

My last year in college I was looking for something new after playing soccer for several years. I was hooked. Especially when someone said if you are a night person you will never be able to do it. I had to show I could do anything; I could work at a bar until 2:30AM and somehow still make practice by 5:30AM. It wasn't always pretty. That's why I switched to sculling afterwards. I found a club I could row at anytime. I was never going to row at 5:30AM ever again.

CSC: What were aspects of the sport that attracted you?

I have always loved the water: swimming, ocean play, etc. The part I loved most was the training required to succeed. I love to train hard. I can eat as much as I want then, especially at Craftsbury.

CSC: What event or result had the most meaning for you as a competitor?

There were a few. Some of my best races were not ones I won. One that I was very excited about was when I qualified for the final at Holland Beker Regatta in Amsterdam. I was able to race against the top women in the world. These were women who medaled in the single at the Olympics and Worlds. Although my final race was a disaster, getting there was exciting!

My training had the most meaning to me, always analyzing all aspects of my life. Some of those were not always easy to face. The journey of training was my favorite not the actual racing. The people I met along the way were wonderful and I got to see many great bodies of water.

CSC: What inspired you to start coaching?

I have always loved to teach. I usually helped with math and science, so coaching rowing just seemed fun. My biggest inspiration for coaching was Jim Clark from Moss Bay. He set a wonderful example. He showed me how to love the sport and have fun. He created a very caring, loving and fun environment which I would like to pass on.

CSC: When learning how to scull, what do you think are the two most important elements to master first?

Hand placement, aka grip. If done wrong, it creates so many problems that are hard to fix, like bending your arms too early, tension in the arms, too much wrist motion at the finish, a hard time balancing and taking the blades off the water.

After you get a decent grip, next is learning to use the body properly and suspend the weight on the handles.

CSC: What is your favorite aspect of coaching at Craftsbury?

The real question is "What don't I like?" Craftsbury is a very special place to me. I love my early morning rows searching for the beavers. I look forward to my adventure runs always looking to see my first moose. I love teaching at Craftsbury. It's great to see people get it and have fun.

And don't forget dessert twice a day and the never-ending supply of coffee. It's a special atmosphere that I believe most people understand once they have been there.

CSC: As a coach, what do you think are some of the most important qualities to instill in a young athlete?

Have fun, take responsibility for your actions, and learning to respect for your teammates, coaches and yourself.

CSC: You emphasize the idea of play a lot in your work with juniors. What does play give that more traditional approaches miss? What's your favorite play drill, and why?

Playing is fun! Isn't rowing supposed to be fun?! Growing up didn't you play Tag or Duck Duck Goose? That teaches running. Why not play to learn rowing? It's the best way to become comfortable sculling, especially in the single. The more comfortable you are, the less fears when you are trying new things or in rough water. When you are comfortable you are able to react quickly to different situations without tensing up or not knowing what to do next.

Some play drills I do are the crab crawl, backwards crab crawl, backing races, balancing without touching the handles, and who can splash the person next to them backwards the best, being able to fling the oar 360 degrees while in the boat, and the list goes on! These all teach something: splashing backwards works on the catch, crab crawl works on hand quickness, flinging the blade gives confidence in the balance of the boat...you only need one blade to balance.

CSC: You hate the picture on the 2003 sculling brochure featuring you, why?

Oh, I don't hate it. We are always most critical of ourselves. I see a small flaw in technique in the photo and the ring around the waist that never seemed to disappear. I had to accept the ring as part of my body, just like the blonde hair.

CSC: In the picture, you were rowing a Peinert, as you did in parts of your competitive career. Was that a statement by rowing what's considered a club boat? Or just a fit issue?

Actually, the first several years I trained in an Avante. They are no longer in business, but during the summers when I trained in Craftsbury I trained in the Peinert. I was very comfortable in the lightweight version and could make it move. I raced in it at Canadian Henley and showed it could hold its own! I eventually did purchase a Van Deusen which I love.