Competitive rowing has no higher profile than the Summer Olympics, when sports enthusiasts around the world can take a close look at what constitutes a successful crew team.
A prime example is the U.S. women’s eight-person rowing shell, which won the gold medal in London on Friday. Those who caught the winning performance saw a determined performance from those doing the actual rowing, and from the lady sitting in the stern calling the shots.
In crew, that position is coxswain, pronounced COX-en. And for the U.S. women’s eight, that person is Mary Whipple, who also won gold in 2008 and silver in 2004.
Watching with special interest is Victoria Lazur, a former member of the Upper St. Clair High School crew team. A couple of summers ago, Victoria attended a coxswain clinic in Pittsburgh conducted by none other than Mary Whipple.
The Olympic champion no doubt would be proud that one of her protégés is pursuing crew on the collegiate level.
Victoria is going into her second season as coxswain for the Ohio State University women’s team, having competed last year as a freshman. The Buckeyes finished second in the Big Ten and fifth at the NCAA championships in Mercer, N.J.
“I was on my high school team for four years, so it was definitely something I wanted to do in college,” Victoria says. “Most of the schools I looked at were D-1 rowing schools.”
She had plenty of options as of late last spring, when she visited Ohio State only days before the May 1 deadline for registering. Head coach Andy Teitelbaum took the time to greet her and show her what his program has to offer, including the $5.2 million boathouse that opened in spring 2011.
“They had four coxswains who graduated, so they were really looking for coxswains,” Victoria says. “It was perfect timing.”
In her position, she steers the boat while providing direction to the rowers.
“It’s definitely leadership,” she explains. “You have to see what’s going on, be in control, and you really have to be aware and on your game all the time.”
She started as a rower while an Upper St. Clair freshman before gravitating toward coxswain. And she gravitated toward crew from another sport.
“I started out my freshman year doing cross country,” she says. “I got hurt, sprained my ankle. My parents had always wanted me to try rowing. I tried it, and that’s what I stuck with. I really liked it. Obviously.”
The 2012 Olympics will close Sunday, but the interest sparked by the U.S. women’s eight and other competitive rowers should carry over into the coming season for Victoria, her Ohio State teammates and crew clubs everywhere.