From left: Kiana Boyer, Hannah McCullough, Madeline Woods, Abbie Loring, and Vivyanne Le
When five Pacific Lutheran University women rowers enrolled in a study abroad program at the University of Aberdeen last fall, they went with the intention of experiencing living and studying at an overseas university. They did not go with the idea that they would join Aberdeen's rowing team.
But that is what they did.
"It kind of just happened," said Kiana Boyer. "We talked about maybe we would row in Scotland, but I don't think it was something I actually really envisioned until I got there."
What changed their thinking was meeting the school's head coach, Lewis McCue, at Aberdeen's fall student involvement day. McCue encouraged the five women to come out for Aberdeen's learn to row day.
And as soon as the women, including sophomores Boyer and Abbie Loring, and juniors Vivyanne Le, Hannah McCullough, and Madeline Woods, attended the learn to row day, McCue invited all five to join his team and gave them two options: row with the competitive squad and practice 10 to 12 sessions a week, or row with the recreational group, which met two to three times a week.
"Since we had rowed before, we had the option to pick which team we wanted to be on," Boyer said.
Lee, McCullough and Woods choose the recreational team. Boyer and Loring picked the competitive group, and for both sophomores, the opportunity became a chance to prepare to train, improve their rowing technique, and compete for PLU's top crews this season when they were back for the spring semester at Pacific Lutheran.
Boyer and Loring in Aberdeen race unis
Boyer rowed in PLU's first varsity eight during parts of last season, and stroked the second varsity eight at NCAA's last spring. Loring, who was a walk on, never made it off the novice squad.
But as they compete for seats for PLU's spring season, they feel they made the right choice by training hard at Aberdeen. Both left Scotland in better shape, and rowing with better technique.
What made the biggest difference for Boyer and Loring was the amount of organized training sessions in the erg and weight rooms, and the time they spent on the water rowing in pairs and fours.
"For starters, I was on the erg a lot more and I definitely got in shape there," Loring said. "It was also a little bit of a smaller program, so I was able to get a little more one-on-one instruction on the water as opposed to being a novice last year.
"We practiced more in small boats," she said. "In the first months, we rowed only in fours and didn't work in eights at all. At PLU, we were almost always in eights. I think being in a four and a pair helped my form a lot because I could feel the boat more, and I got a lot better."
Over the course of the almost four-month experience, all five women were placed in a race situations, participating in Aberdeen's home head race and at the Scottish National Indoor Rowing Championships in Glasgow, where they won a silver medal in a team relay.
The competitive team raced in an additional head race, and by the time they had completed the fall season, had raced in pairs, fours and eights.
"It was a lot of fun there because I was thrown into this new situation, and I was able to meet new people and make a lot of really good friends, and I was also able to get better at rowing," Loring said.
"I really enjoyed it, and I improved my rowing a lot more too," Boyer said. "I had only been in a pair one other time before going there, and then we ended up racing in pairs. I think that helped a lot learning more technical things on the water.
"One of my favorites moments was racing in the pair because I bonded more with the other woman I was racing with, and I also because I got to race Abbie, so that was exciting."
For the women who participated in the recreational program, the experience was no less rewarding.
"My experience in Aberdeen rowing was amazing," said McCullough. "I am so, so grateful for it. It honestly reminded me how much I love and appreciate the sport. I learned so much about myself, and a different mentality of rowing with a different boat club, new styles of workouts, a different team dynamic, and overall saw the sport in a different light, which I did not expect."
McCullough said she became interested in rowing at Aberdeen when she learned there was a program, "but I was skeptical about how it actually was, and if it would be similar or different from PLU.
"That feeling obviously affected me actually checking it out, and it turned out to be one of the most positive experiences about studying abroad," she said.
Loring in bow racing Kiana stroking in the pairs next to them.