This week row2k continues our 2024 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Nova Southeastern senior coxswain Lauren Gray. We chat with her on her coxing career being interrupted and and getting once last chance this spring.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Lauren Gray - I had done every sport imaginable as a kid; dance, volleyball, swimming, lacrosse, softball, Tae Kwon Do. Name the sport and I probably participated in it at some point in my life. I never found a sport that I really fell in love with or I missed the team competition aspect of it. When I was a freshman at Magnificat High School, they started a rowing team. I had never heard of rowing but figured it would not hurt to go learn more. I went to the first couple of practices and before I knew it I was a senior.
I knew that I wanted to be part of a team and figured that mostly everyone else was starting from scratch and so why not join them? I loved the unity aspect of rowing and the connectedness it brought. My first year I became a coxswain and stuck with that for all four of my years with sporadic rowing here and there. While there were many early mornings, that meant watching the sunrise and being out on the water with my team and it brought me serenity.
row2k - How did you decide to attend Nova Southeastern?
Lauren Gray - I was in the process of looking all across the nation at colleges. For a while, I never made up my mind about rowing at the collegiate level. I decided that I would give it a try because I did love the sport. My high school coach, Joe Mariuzza, mentioned the Nova Southeastern to me and I decided to look into it. I went on an official visit in January 2020 and loved the school and the team. I attended an online Shark Preview in March 2020 due to everything shutting down with the pandemic. After Shark Preview, I committed to Nova Southeastern to further my athletic and academic career. On the brink of the pandemic, I wanted a change and something that I could have a say in. I decided to attend NSU over 1,000 miles away from home.
row2k - The Sharks rowing program was cut prior to your arrival on campus, how did you handle that news and why did you end up staying at NSU?
Lauren Gray - The rowing program was cut two days before I was supposed to leave for Florida. My deposits, housing, and tuition were paid. I had roommates and two cars were packed with my belongings ready to start the nineteen hour drive. At that point, at least for my first semester, I really did not have much of a choice. I was absolutely devastated. I remember getting off of the Zoom call and breaking down. How could something that I worked so hard for and dedicated my whole high school career towards be ripped away from me that easily? I had not even competed with this team and I was heartbroken.
One thing Coach Joe always said during my whole recruiting process was, "at the end of the day, God forbid something happens and you break your foot and can't row, do you still love the school?" I really took that to heart and thank goodness I did. I truly loved Nova Southeastern as a school and everything they had to offer. In the heat of all of it, it was hard because rowing was a big reason I committed to NSU, however, I would not change that decision. Everyone around me encouraged me to get involved in other ways to make NSU home.
row2k - What extracurricular activities did you pick up without rowing?
Lauren Gray - I have always been super involved in school. At Magnificat, I was a coxswain and captain of the rowing team as well as the president of our service club. I had every intention of continuing my involvement in college. My first year, I was on the Honors Student Advisory Board, a lab assistant for biology, and joined my sorority as well as holding a position with them.
The Honors Student Advisory Board was through the honors college and we met to discuss how to improve the honors college. I was a lab assistant for two semesters helping with labs and equipment. I then picked up the lab assistant again my senior year but for neuroscience. Within my sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, I helped plan recruitment, I was the Vice President of Operations, and the president. DPhiE was where I really kept up my leadership skills and was pushed out of my comfort zone to problem solve and work on my confidence as an individual. I believe that as president I really channeled my inner coxswain. I found my people within the sorority which helped me fall in love with the school even more. I was almost too busy to think about rowing. I would often think about how my collegiate life would have been different if I was able to row but never went more than that because I thought that I would never find out.
row2k - The rowing program was reinstated for your senior year, how did you decide to come back to the sport?
Lauren Gray - Like I had mentioned previously, I was almost too busy to think about rowing. Every so often someone would mention it to me and I would think, "aww yeah I do wish I could go out on the water just one more time." I did not get my high school senior spring racing season due to COVID-19 and then cutting the NSU team before move in just added in more disappointment. I remember emailing Coach Kim Chavers and being up front with all of my involvement. There were parts of tryouts I could not even attend due to my involvement in other activities. A lot of my involvement was ending in the fall season so I knew that if I made it through the fall I could stick with the team. I also rationalized with myself that I had to make the team first. If I did not make the team, I would have my answer. I knew that if I never attended tryouts, I would be kicking myself wondering why I never tried.
During tryouts, we went on the water and I remember sitting in the coxswain seat and feeling at home. I had chills down my spine when I was back on the water and knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I know that sounds cheesy, but I never got a chance to say, "okay this is my last time on the water and then I'll say goodbye to the sport I love so much." Due to the pandemic, I had to suck it up and make the best of it.
Attending tryouts I fell right back in love with the sport and remembered all of the good memories. I then knew that if I made the team, I was willing to fight for this sport that had not only given me so much but also inadvertently been taken right out from under me. I remember getting the email that I had made the team and was absolutely ecstatic. Happy tears were definitely shed. I did not even give myself a choice, I was going to find every way to make it work that I could be on the rowing team again. I have received overwhelming support from the athletic staff and team. I would make the decision to come back over and over again.
row2k - What are you looking forward to most for your senior season?
Lauren Gray - I am looking forward to many firsts and lasts. My first and last time competing at a collegiate level. My first and last time competing with my new teammates. My last time sitting in the boat surrounded by women who want the same exact thing as me in that moment. I have bonded with the whole team in such a short time, this program and team hold a special place in my heart. I am upset that I only get a couple of months with the team, but I am making every moment last and making the most of it. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to compete, even for just one year. While my freshman year the news sucked, being able to share my knowledge about rowing with the team as a senior is rewarding. It is going to be hard to say goodbye all over again in May but at least this time I have a heads up. I am excited for everything this season holds as well as watching the team grow.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Lauren Gray - I love everything about rowing. Many have no idea of everything that the sport entails. People have different views on rowing and what goes on but until someone sits in that coxswain seat or puts their hands on an oar they are not truly immersed in all that makes up the sport of rowing. I love the mind and body of the boat and how both have to work together to move the boat as one. The coxswain really brings the mind to the boat, always thinking two beats ahead and knowing the race plan like the back of their hand. The rowers are the body, physically moving the boat as one entity. If one person is out of time or drops their hand at the catch, the whole boat is off for that stroke.
Rowing in my mind is the ultimate team sport because the whole boat has to be on the same page. Yes there are other team sports but nothing like rowing in that you need all nine people for that eight boat. It is the whole boat's job to make sure to keep an optimistic yet practical mindset at all times or else your practice could be the most unproductive thing. While much of rowing is physical, it is almost equally mental. Rowing has given me most of my mental toughness and I am extremely grateful. There is so much to like about rowing, but I believe there is something especially moving about how all nine people in a boat are needed and appreciated or else the boat is not moving. Without a person in a seat, you are missing a vital piece and that piece needs to be found to bring the boat back to fly on the water.
row2k - What are you studying at Nova Southeastern and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Lauren Gray - I am a neuroscience major with three minors in health informatics, honors transdisciplinary studies, and pre-health. After graduation, I plan to attend medical school. I have known for a while that I wanted to do medicine but I believe rowing has also helped me pursue that. The mental toughness, persistence, and determination that is needed for both, while not exactly the same, have a resemblance which helped aid my decision. Rowing has given me so much and I am excited to use the knowledge and skills I have gained from the sport to become a physician.