Before last fall, Camille vanderMeer was happy and successful playing defender with a nationally-competitive soccer team in her hometown of Elmira, NY. But as many soccer players and parents know, US Soccer made a change from school-year to calendar-year age grouping for teams in 2016 , which dramatically changed the composition of many soccer teams, even leaving some athletes without enough teammates to field a teammate. So last fall, vanderMeer found herself without a team, and without a sport.
"I’m an athletic person, and I need something to keep me busy, otherwise I’m just going to watch TV all the time which is not good," 16-year-old vanderMeer said. "My mom was a rower, so we had an erg in the basement, so , I started erging in November. "
She had some solid resources to tap; in addition to her mother Sue, who stroked a national championship crew at Cornell, she could reach out to her uncle Andrew Kallfelz, dad and coach to rowing sisters Emily and Eliza Kallfelz.
"My mom still rows in alumni events at Head of Charles and San Diego, and then I called my uncle and asked if he had any workout. So I started rowing on the erg, which I really liked. I know a lot of people don't like the erg, but I got interested in seeing all the improvements, and watching your numbers drop. I liked that you can quantify how well you are doing."
"Then I did Crash B’s, and I did pretty well."
Indeed she did, placing sixth overall in the junior women's category with a 7:13.8 2k score.
"After that, I thought, well, I should learn to row."
The extended family took a trip to Florida in March to visit their grandparents, and vanderMeer and Eliza rowed the single while there.
"We did a week there, and after we came back I spent a week in Rhode Island two week ago with them over spring break," she said. "So I’ve been rowing for two weeks, and this is my first event."
vanderMeer rowed her first race on Sunday morning at the Mercer Sprints/ISA Sculling Championships on Mercer Lake, and it went, more or less, as expected.
"It went kind of how I expected, although I was hoping for a little better, lots of expectations," she said. She said the light crosswind wasn't too much of a challenge for someone who is learning to row on the Seekonk, but the racing presented some other challenges.
"I wasn’t used to higher stroke rate, and the start was hard," she said. "I was a bit discombobulated."
In fact, vanderMeer pulled into the start facing the wrong way at first, a mistake in which instead of being upsetting, helped her discover things about the rowing community that she found refreshing. "I turned around the wrong way at first, then everyone was laughing, and then I got turned around the right way," she said. "But everyone was really friendly, which I really wasn’t expecting. People were talking to each other and laughing at the start, and at the end everyone was saying good race."
vanderMeer also found solace from friends and family in other sculling rights of passage along the way, including flipping her single.
"I have flipped at least four times," she said, "but it's not that bad, and I am getting good at getting back in the boat. The first time I flipped, Eliza called and said 'Don't worry, everyone flips at some point; I flipped at World Championships!'"
vanderMeer also ran track at her school (Notre Dame High School), so the solitude of the single is not unfamiliar or unwelcome.
"I don’t really find the single lonely," she said. "I like it because you’re in control, and can do things at your own pace. Especially as a new rower, I like the singles work at my own pace."
Nonetheless, she does look forward to rowing in team boats.
"Being all by yourself wasn’t a problem for me, although I do like rowing in doubles," she said. "It can be more fun; all of sudden, you think, hey, I have friends now!"