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'Embraced this new culture': Checking in with Duke rowing

<p>This past semester was a very unique one for Duke rowing.</p>

This past semester was a very unique one for Duke rowing.

Amidst the many contributors to Duke’s lively and innovative campus are some of its hardest workers: the Duke women’s rowing team. The sight of eight rowers moving in perfect synchrony to carve their oars into the glassy calm water of Lake Michie (the location of Duke’s boathouse) is truly untouched. However, these graceful strokes are not nearly as effortless as these talented women make them appear. 

Rowing is an extremely taxing sport, both mentally and physically, and Duke rowers eagerly push themselves in the continuous pursuit of perfection on a daily basis. The Chronicle spoke with senior Sydney Cikovic, junior captain Amelia Shunk and head coach Megan Cooke Carcagno to discuss some of the fascinating news going on with the team during the fall semester.

How is the team functioning amidst a pandemic? 

Similarly to all other Blue Devil athletic teams, COVID-19 has led to some adjustments this year. The team is currently divided into two groups, which split time rowing on the water and training on land. In addition to these early morning workouts, the team trains on the ergs (rowing machines) and in the weight room. 

When moving around in the boathouse or walking around on the dock, team members must wear their masks. When in a fixed seat, whether it be in the boat or on the erg, rowers can take their masks off. The team documents these set lineups to ensure proper contact tracing. 

As of Nov. 19, the approximately 60 people that make up the roster have totaled zero positive COVID-19 tests, highlighting the rowers’ commitment to the new protocols. 

“The team has completely embraced this new culture,” Cooke Carcagno said. “We have created normalcy in this learning situation.”

What about races?

The Blue Devils were unable to travel to fall regattas (competitions) as the NCAA cancelled fall competitions for spring sports. However, in-person rowing is still possible at bigger races in the spring. 

In the meantime, the team has been preparing for race-level intensity with intra-squad competition this semester. 

The ACC and NCAA Rowing Championships are the biggest events coming this spring, and while COVID-19 will certainly cause some changes in how the meets are conducted, it doesn’t appear that boat capacity will be one of those changes.

“There are no signs of the ACC or NCAA reducing capacity for spring races other than ensuring they are conducted safely,” Cooke Carcagno said.

One of the most highly-anticipated races within those meets will be the varsity eight race. Duke placed second in the varsity eight final in the 2019 ACC Championships, finishing just four seconds behind Virginia. With this past spring’s championships cancelled, the Blue Devils are hungry for revenge over their ACC rival. 

“We are excited to see competition from the Big Ten and fellow ACC opponents like UVA,” Shunk said. 

Outside of rowing

With daily commitment to their work and each other, the rowers are an extremely tight-knit community. Each member of the squad belongs to a cohort known as a family, providing smaller support systems. Nevertheless, the entire team also remains close as it balances the intensity of the sport and the importance of enjoying the process. 

“It’s like we flip a switch,” Cikovic said. “One second we are focused over 4000 meters, and when it’s over, we can turn around and talk about our plans for the night.”

The team is very young, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Thanks to great leadership from the senior class and captains, however, the team has a high ceiling this season as well as in the coming years. 

“Our team is so close because we choose to spend time together outside of rowing,” Shunk said. “We had a COVID-safe scavenger hunt this fall.”

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