Bryn Mawr head coach Carol Bower is a relatively recent addition to the Craftsbury family of coaches, but that doesn't diminish in the least our pride on her induction into the UCLA Hall of Fame. In this month's Coach Profile, we catch up with Carol and find out more of the story behind her induction as well as pick her brain about rowing.
How did you start rowing/sculling?
I started sweep rowing my junior year at UCLA in 1977. I had thought about rowing before this but I was committed to playing basketball and there was no way I could do both. After an injury during fall tryouts, it became clear to me that my body could not handle basketball at that level anymore. So I got up early one morning, drove myself down to Marina Del Ray (the harbor where the UCLA boathouse is located), hopped in the barge and started my rowing career.
I started sculling after I graduated from UCLA and after my first year on the national sweep team. I was still in California and, like most graduate rowers, was floundering around trying to find a place to row and a group to row with. I flipped a lot. My record is 3 times in one practice. Even though I had a hard time staying upright, I really loved sculling. Training at anything above a steady state pace was risky though. Fortunately, I was invited to join the Vesper Boat Club and train with sweep rowers in Philadelphia in preparation for the 1980 Olympic team. I put the sculls away for awhile, packed my bags and moved to the east coast.
What basketball position did you play? Not the most common combination of sports (rowing and basketball).
I was a forward and you would be surprised at the similarities in physical and mental requirements of this position to rowing. When a shot is attempted by the opposing team, the forward needs to hold her position while "blocking out" the person she is guarding for the rebound. This demands the same leg strength, balance and awareness as rowing into a pounding head wind. The rhythm of the touch of the ball in your hands while dribbling is similar to the rhythm and feel of the oar handle while rowing. Additionally, when the ball is in your hands and there is an open lane ahead, you immediately drive toward the goal. Rowing is the same even though the open lane is behind you.
When learning how to scull, what do you think are the two most important elements to master first?
First, taking the time to set your foot-stretchers properly. This is how you make the rig fit right so you are comfortable and able have a good transition from drive to recovery. This may seem "oh so painfully basic," but I have a great story to relate about this.
One of my fellow inductees to the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame is John Vallely. John played basketball for the famous coach John Wooden, and in his acceptance speech he talked about how coach Wooden started every season with a lecture about the proper method of "putting on your socks." John told everyone in the room that he along with his UCLA team mates were standing in Pauley Pavilion, chomping at the bit, eager to get on the court and play. Coach Wooden however took 15 minutes to demonstrate how to correctly put on and wear the right sock. Then he took another 15 minutes to do the same for the left sock!
So take a little time at the beginning of each session to make sure that your foot-stretchers are set properly and your rigging fits right!
The second element to master is stopping and turning. I am always amazed at how haphazard people can be when coming to a stop and/or turning. When you "way enough", be mindful of how to easily and gradually square up the blades to stop the shell where you want it to stop. Or, if you need to turn the shell around after the stop, square up one side before the other to start your turn as your boat slows down. Also, take the time to study the blade work with one blade and the balance of the shell with the other blade as you make your turn.
These are skills that can be mastered early on and will make the skills that take years to master, like catch connection and stroke sequence, a lot easier and more enjoyable to improve on. Something all the Craftsbury coaches agree on is that the individual elements of the rowing stroke, catch-drive-release-recovery, are all part of a sequential set of skills that fluidly transition from one to the next. We work on one element for a while and then go on to another and work on that for a while. One element of the stroke can only improve slightly ahead of the others.
What event or result had the most meaning for you as a competitor?
The World Championships in Bled, Yugoslavia in 1979. That was my first World Championship regatta and my second year of rowing. I was pretty raw technically as a rower, but felt ready and willing for the challenge as a competitor. The venue was absolutely beautiful. In fact as I write this in my office I can look up at a photo of the race course with the church on the island in the middle of the lake and the castle on the cliff just above the 1500 meter mark.
This was also Kris Korzeniowski's first year of coaching the United States National Team. He had a very harsh style of coaching that we were not used to. Working with him (and he with us) was a wild ride physically, mentally and emotionally. Eventually, however, we all came together as a team and were well repaired to take on the best crews in the world.
In the heats we won easily, broke the world record time and were slightly faster than the Soviet Union who had won their heat. I could not have been much higher. I was racing for the United States with the fastest crew….in the world!
In the finals we got off to a great start and were solidly in second place and moving on the Soviets. With 30 strokes to go I caught a crab and we ended up placing third rather than a possible first or a definite second place finish. I felt awful about this but my team-mates rallied around me and said it was a boat mistake. It was that reaction and the support of my team-mates at that moment that is the most meaningful to me and is a behavior I encourage and expect from the athletes I now coach.
What inspired you to start coaching?
Coaching the sport of rowing is partly a job, partly a learning experience, and mostly a chance to share in something that is wonderful and worthwhile. I feel this way whether I am pushing a team towards a collegiate championship or working with a novice master rower, who is making his way of Lake Hosmier for the first time. I love coaching this sport now as much as I did when I first started 27 years ago.
What are the most important things you learned from your rowing coaches that you want to pass on to your students?
Competition and athletic performance is about NOW. You can't put off putting your best effort in practice or in racing. Competition is about making the most out of each moment whether it is the final minute of the grand final race or the middle minute of a long steady state training session.
At Bryn Mawr College, I am working with very intelligent and highly motivated individuals who have chosen to compete in rowing as well as excel in the classroom. They respond extremely well to this attitude of training. This is not to take away from a balanced life and a diverse college experience, but rather, to put their full physical effort and mental attention into each practice during our 19 week season and into each race in our fall and spring schedule.
I understand you've worked at gender equality issues in sports. At the college level, has Title IX solved the problem?
Change, it is said is never easy or graceful. This has certainly been the case of the federal law, Title IX, as it is used as the tool to transform college athletics from a male only domain to an integrated "classroom" in which both men and women learn and gain from the benefits of participation in competitive sports.
When Title IX was first enacted in 1972, it was done so with the intent of creating equal opportunity for women in academics. There was a belief at one time that women could not or would not handle the rigors of college level study and classes. What we have seen since then has been a dramatic growth of women attending college, even to the point that nationwide, women outnumber men on university and college campuses.
Athletics in general and rowing in particular was another instance where it was thought that women were too delicate for competitive athletics and really were not all that interested. We are seeing amazing growth of women's participation in collegiate athletics in general and rowing in particular. This has also greatly impacted the growth of female participation on high school sports teams.
So to answer your question, "has it solved the problem," not yet, but it is getting there. Have other problems arisen due to the methods in which collegiate athletic departments have chosen to comply with the law? Yes. Departmental strategies need to be examined and changed, not the law. Has Title IX been a positive and productive tool towards achieving equity in education since its inception in 1972? Absolutely!
I have a personal comment I want to make about Title IX as well. Rowing at UCLA certainly was the spring-board for my career as an international athlete for six years and as a coach for international, collegiate and club teams for the past 27 years. The combination of the UCLA culture of athletic excellence combined with the opportunity to row (especially when I could no longer play basketball) gave me the confidence to "take on the rest of the country and the world." Without the enactment of Title IX, these opportunities would now have been available for me.
It was a wonderful experience to walk through the Hall of Fame with my family and see my photo and name up among the great Bruin athletes. This experience was enriched by the presence of a thriving and competitive women's rowing program led by a very accomplished Olympic rower and talented coach, Amy Fuller Kearney. Title IX gave me the opportunity to launch from, and return to, a place for which I will always be very proud to be associated with.