This week row2k features Lewis & Clark transgender rower Ryan LaVigne. LaVigne traveled a long way to find a place to row in college and is one of only a handful of transgendered athletes competing in the NCAA.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Ryan LaVigne - I originally started rowing because I had injured back and could not do high impact sports for a while. I had never really heard of rowing and thought it wouldn’t be too hard because everyone was sitting down. I was very wrong but what I found was a wonderful sport. I rowed all through high school and the last couple years I was able to train very heavily in a single which is when I really fell in love with the sport. The more I could row the better my days felt and better I felt. Rowing offered a place were it was ok to push yourself in every way you can.
row2k - How did you end up at Lewis & Clark from Florida?
Ryan LaVigne - I was originally interested in trying to go to an east coast school, however during my senior year I began to over train, and ended up hurting my shoulder. In doing so I knew that the possibility of going to a school with a big rowing program was off the table for awhile and I needed to take time off to heal. I had only been looking at rowing schools and Lewis & Clark had been on that list. When realizing that I would need to go to a place that would accept me for the gender I am, Portland came to mind, and Lewis & Clarks academics lined up with what I wanted to do. So I decided to apply. It was only after my first year at school, taking time off to recover for my shoulder, that I realized I really need rowing back in my life.
row2k - How did the process of becoming NCAA eligible go?
Ryan LaVigne - The NCAA process, while much simpler than other processes some athletic institutions have, was stressful. Having to get a note from my doctor verifying medications and my gender was a very unsettling. Having to have someone sign off on the gender you know you are is an experience that I can’t quite describe. I am very happy it worked out though. Being able to row on a team that aligns with my gender, is so affirming especially considering the fact that rowing had offered me a release and challenge that had defined my life for so long.
LaVigne with Pioneer teammates
row2k - Have there been any unexpected challenges this year?
Ryan LaVigne - Before heading into fall season, I was absolutely petrified on how the team would accept me and if I would have to constantly justify or prove things to others. It is a constant fear when coming into a new group if they will accept you or not, and I was sure that it would be hard to get to the team to accept me. I was very wrong; the acceptance of the Lewis & Clark women’s crew has been such a great experience. Walking into the erg room the first day I was greeted with acceptance from everyone on the women’s team. As long as I could row it didn’t matter. However, after taking a break from rowing and doing rugby my first year of college meant that it was going to be hard to get back into rowing shape.
Fall season went well and I was able to balance being a resident advisor and rower, however over winter training I ended up throwing out my back and had to miss the first couple weeks of spring season and ended up starting behind the rest of the team. I have been determined to catch up though.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Ryan LaVigne - I love the feeling of the work. There is something really wonderful about being able to sit down on the erg or at the start of a piece knowing that you are about to put all you have into the next strokes. I had rowed mostly a single until coming to Lewis & Clark, so being on a team were I count on those in the boat with me is something I am really starting to enjoy. There is a truly wonderful sense of community you feel with those around you after you are all huffing and puffing after a good piece. I really love being able to share a common drive with the team. Rowing is the only sport that has given me the opportunity to push myself to see just exactly how far your body can go.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Ryan LaVigne - The most memorable race I have had has been up in American Lake. It was a 5k in the fall of 2015 and my first race with the LC crew. We had two really good races, in one of them, the varsity 4, we were able to snag first. All the girls pulled their hearts out and it really showed, especially since it was the second race of the day. I think what made it the most memorable was the fact I could participate in the sport I love, as the person I am. This was never an opportunity I saw happening since I came out or even before hand. So being able to sit at the start line with teammates that have helped me so much and row for Lewis & Clark was a really special moment for me. It was a hallmark of how far I have come and what is ahead of me. Being transgender should never get in the way of doing what you love, and should only enhance it. Being at the start line of that race really showed me that. It was such an affirming experience being able to race in college, with a crew that has my back, and pull us to a win. I am really excited for the races this spring to see what kind of times we can all pull.
row2k - What are you studying at Lewis & Clark and do you have any plans yet for after college?
Ryan LaVigne - I am studying chemistry and hoping to go to grad school after Lewis & Clark. It was not my original plan coming into to college but things changed. I initially only took a chemistry class to prove to my parents and myself that I could do well in a science, however I found out that I really enjoy chemistry.