This week's college preview interview is with Radcliffe senior lightweight Lizzy Bates. row2k chats with Bates about being from a rowing family, racing on the U23 team, and what she loves about the sport
row2k: Why did you decide to attend Radcliffe and what was your athletic background in high school?
Lizzie Bates: I knew I wanted to row for a D1 lightweight team in college, which limits college choices I also wanted to be a part of a strong program, both athletically and academically. I hoped to be surrounded by dedicated, enthusiastic, fun, and motivated teammates and classmates – and that is exactly what I have found at Harvard.
I started rowing in the spring of my freshman year at St. Paul's (Concord, NH) and have loved it ever since. I rowed for an open-weight program so was put in the bow for the first outing, and never made it out all 4 years. Because rowing was only offered in the spring, I found other sports to fill the fall and winter seasons. I played soccer and basketball, but I suffer from a typical rower ailment/problem of lack of coordination, so the next season switched to x-country running and Nordic skiing. The racing, endurance sports were much more up my alley.
row2k: In your opinion, how much does rowing compare to Nordic skiing and how is it different?
Lizzie Bates: Both rowing and Nordic skiing demand physical and mental toughness, as well as the desire to race and beat the person in front or next to you. They also require sharp technical skills as well as both endurance and sprint training. When I started to ski, I had no technique and made it through my first season by muscling my way up the hills and across the course; this is also similar to my experience as a novice rower.
The team aspect, however, is different. My ski team was a bonded and tight-knit group, but, besides from the relay, performance is individual. We pushed each other in practice and cheered during races, but the finish time was a solo effort. Crew on the other hand, is the ultimate team sport. Performance is a reflection of how well a boat works together, and how fast the rowers are as a unit. Individual performance is important for training, but for racing (other than in a single), it’s about the team work. It’s about melding together and racing as one.
row2k: You’re from a lightweight rowing family, how many of your family members are involved in the sport and how much rowing talk happens at family functions?
Lizzie Bates: Rowing is a big part of my family. I am the 3rd of 4 children and all of my siblings row as well. My father rowed lightweight at Cambridge University and, after years of cheering on the riverbank and baking homemade race treats, my mom started to row last year in an ocean-scull at home. I have cheered at rowing regattas since I was 10 years old and I even have a black lab named Henley When my family is together, we typically engage in family workouts- friends call them crazy, we think they're fun. For the past few years we have done a New Year's Day challenge, either running a half marathon or doing an erg marathon (lining up on ergs in the house and cueing up The Office). Every year on Thanksgiving, the kids and my dad run a local race. When I was in high school my older sister convinced me to join her in a double for a 20k race up and down the Charles River. It was my first time in a double and we somehow finished without flipping. I think we may have even placed 2nd!
Regattas have become family reunions, and the Head of the Charles is arguably more of a family event than some national holidays. Part of my pre-race routine is talking to one, or all of my siblings, which always helps calm my nerves while also pumping me up. It’s a wonderful thing we all share, and we have all found our own ways to participate and shine. - My younger sister, Ruthie, who is proudly the only Bates to make it out of the bow in high school, now coxes for the USNA lightweights. My older brother David, captain of Navy Lights '07-'08, is part of the winningest pair in Navy Lights history – He and Joshua Accomando were unbeatable. My older sister, Sarah, Radcliffe Lightweight captain '05-'06, helped coach Greenwich HS to two state championships.
While I will admit to friendly competition among siblings, we are each other's biggest fans and are constantly encouraging one another. They say what I want to hear, and what I need to hear, even when I don't want to listen. I love sharing the sport with my family. Next fall we will try to petition to allow the Directors Cup Quad at HOCR to be composed for 3 girls and 1 boy (as opposed to the traditional 2 girls, 2 boys) so the siblings can compete. Or we will row a co-ed coxed 4, with my dad joining us in the boat. Sharing rowing with my family creates a unique connection to the sport and significantly contributes to my love of the sport.
row2k: You had your first taste of international competition last year racing in the USA U23 LW2x, what was that experience like?
Lizzie Bates: I really enjoyed racing in Belarus. It was exciting to compete on the U-23 team and seeing the US flag on my uni was very motivating. It was cool to look across at the starting line and see women from other countries. I liked being surrounded by other rowers, who were equally as dedicated to the sport and to race. It was inspiring to see so many people my age gathered together around a similar passion. I loved racing in the double with Sarah Keller. We improved every race and I've never had more fun going down a race course.
Of course, travel and water issues were interesting and added a bit of adventure to the experience. Once I learned to decipher which bottled water tasted good, and which was mineral (gross), it was great. The endless supply of candy bars and cookies made up for the water, and it was a lot of fun playing Banagrams with the rest of the US team. Besides my 20k race with my sister, I didn't have much sculling experience so this summer I caught the sculling bug, and can't wait to scull again this summer.
row2k: What was the most important thing you learned from 2010 that you will use to help you and your crews succeed in 2011?
Lizzie Bates: Anything can happen in the last 500m. Having a strong, positive connection between the rowers, and between the rowers and the coach, leads to success. In high school, a coach gave me advice that has stayed with me over the years. 'Have faith in yourself and you'll be amazed by what you can do'. That was especially true this summer, and I got a motivating glimpse into what is possible when a crew believes in themselves and strives to go faster. RVL is holding true to that sentiment this spring and I am so excited to see what we can do together.
row2k: How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring?
Lizzie Bates: We recently had a great training trip in Sarasota, FL, where we enjoyed the new training facility and warm welcome from Sarasota locals. The ice on the Charles River is pretty thick so we have made some great playlists and CDs because it looks like we will be indoors on the erg for a long time. This year is by far the most cohesive, tight-knit, and fun team I have been a part of. We are training hard and hope to build off our performance this past Fall, placing 3rd and 7th at HOCR, and last Spring.
Last year, every Radcliffe lightweight won a medal at Sprints. We want to do that again, but change the colors of the medals from bronze and silver to gold. I have never won a medal at IRAs and really want one around my neck.
row2k: What do you like most about the sport of rowing? I row for my team, for the 8 other people in the boat and the teammates on the shore, and what we accomplish together. I row for the girls that make me laugh at 6:30 in the morning, that push and encourage each other every day, and for the people that always believed in me. I row for the feeling of pushing myself harder than I thought I could, and the resulting feeling of sheer joy (and pain) that comes with accomplishing something special. I row for flat water, views of sunsets and sunrises over the river, and the sounds of cheering as we come down the race course. I row because I want to see what is possible and see what my team is capable of when we all work together. I like the physical and mental challenges that the nature of the sport presents me with everyday. I love the commitment my teammates give to a common goal and striving to reach that goal. I row for the excitement of racing, and the rush of moving through an opposing crew. I row for the feeling of run and rhythm, and the soaring, exhilarating sensation when everyone is pulling together. I row for the dancing warm-ups and the camaraderie on the team. Rowing is one of the few things that gives you what you put in. Its not like school or work, that can be subjective or leave you feeling cheated because someone else determines the outcome. Hard work and serious effort brings positive results. It is a fair trade, and an extremely rewarding one. It taught me to never ever give up. To give every piece, lift, practice, and race the most I can muster at that moment. It taught me about the power of the team -when exhausted and sore, I look at my teammates and seeing them working hard gives me energy to keep going; when down, my teammates pick me up. I love the sport itself, the focus and commitment it requires, and I love racing – seeing how fast and how far we can go. I row for the community – for my teammates over the years, for the team parents who have brought bagels, gatorade, hot cocoa, lemon squares, and other post-race snacks, for fans who wake up early and travel miles to cheer me on. I row for all my teammates, my coaches, my family, and all that the sport has taught me and given me.
Lizzie Bates: At the beginning of the season, my team collected thoughts on why we row. What we came up with does a good job of describing what I like about the sport of rowing:
row2k: You’re fairly active in the community when not on the water or in class, what types of things are you involved in?
Lizzie Bates: I love working with kids, whether its at a camp, in a classroom, or on a sports field. I help teach an after-school program through Citizens Schools in Boston on leadership and social change. We work with middle-school students to develop leadership skills, and together design innovative social change projects on issues that matter to them – recycling, anti-bullying, etc. It is a lot of fun to find creative and active ways to teach the kids about communication, teamwork, and other valuable skills. I am also a peer advisor for freshmen at the College.
Last year I went to Kenya and volunteered at a rural school where I taught classes on science, health and conservation. I spent a lot of time with the girls and the younger students, who told me that they wanted to play more sports. I take participating in athletics for granted (its a been a huge part of my life since I was young) and I was surprised to learn that Kenyan girls don't typically play sports, even though they wanted to. Together, we started a girls soccer team and the boys even helped teach them drills and footwork. I really enjoyed being able to share that opportunity with the girls, while also learning so much from them.
row2k: What are you studying and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Lizzie Bates: I am studying psychology and global health/health policy. I hope to go to nursing school to become a pediatric nurse or nurse practitioner. I also hope to row next year and to see where I can go with the sport after college. I'm excited about next year and the possibilities it presents.