Rowing: Girls growing in all areas of life

High school girls are discovering opportunities for physical, mental, social, and academic growth in the sport of rowing through the program at Rochester Rowing Club of Minnesota (RRCMN).


Founded in 1990, the RRCMN was originally a program for adults but has grown and expanded over the years, and in 2001, they added a Juniors program. During the last season, there were 10 high school girls on the team. Although their numbers are small, they have a fierce devotion to the sport of rowing and say the academic and personal growth opportunities have made it their sport of choice.


The RRCMN Juniors program, which teaches the type of rowing known as “sculling” (each person uses two oars) is open to eighth through 12th graders in both public and private schools. The high school racing team offers rowers competitive fall, spring and summer seasons, as well as a winter conditioning program. Practices are six days a week on Silver Lake, with Saturday meets in Illinois and Indianapolis and Youth Nationals in Sarasota, Florida. During winter months, rowers focus on improving their times on the ergometer (indoor rowing machine) and weight training.

Varsity letters are earned by attending 98 percent of practices, all three races, called “regattas,” and the annual spring break training in Florida. As participation expenses in the sport of rowing can be high, the club offers some scholarship opportunities to those in need. 


Rowing is a challenging sport, a full body workout, especially taxing on the legs, back and buttocks. “It’s an extremely painful sport,” says RRCMN coach Bryan Little. “The heart rate goes up, and it’s a test of mental ability as well.”

Grace Odell, who will be a junior this fall at Century High School, is in her second season of rowing with RRCMN. Grace parted with playing softball to pursue rowing, a sport she says allows her to see her progress more easily. “In rowing, I can control things more, and I am able to do my best,” she says. Grace has been working to improve her rowing time on the ergometer, which she hopes will translate to greater speed on the water. “You never want to be the last boat to come in,” she says.    

“Rowing is not a sport for lightweights,” says Lauren Fee, who a class of 2017 graduate of John Marshall and former RRCMN Juniors high school girls’ team captain. “It’s extremely physically and mentally tough.” Lauren is fairly new to the sport of rowing, having joined in the spring of her junior year. She was on swim team for 10 years and said it “just wasn’t clicking anymore,” so a friend suggested she try rowing. After her first experience on the ergometer, Lauren was hooked. She likes the motion and the power needed to propel herself and especially enjoys racing. 

“It’s that rush of knowing I did everything I could to get to the finish line first,” says Lauren. She will continue rowing at the college level, as she will be a preferred walk-on for the girls’ rowing team at University of Kansas.


Christina Drexler, Yale University student, was a member of RRCMN from seventh grade through her senior year of high school. She says participation in the sport came at an opportune time, as she was trying to cope with the death of her father, and the sport she had been participating in—swimming—had lost its appeal. She says the sport of rowing—for which she earned a varsity letter—was a formative experience for her. 

Christina says she loved the team dynamic and close friendships made in RRCMN, but what she perhaps appreciates the most is the sense of self, won through the rigors of practices and competition. “I came to appreciate having a strong and healthy body versus what society values in terms of beauty,” explains Christina.  


Holly Galbus is a Rochester freelance writer.