This week's interview is with fifth-year senior Grace Tuttle from Virginia. Tuttle quit the sport after high school and told the UVA coaches she was never doing it again. Now she is the team captain.
row2k - You rowed a bit in high school, but didn't start at Virginia until your sophomore year. What is the story behind leaving the sport and then finding it again?
Grace Tuttle - I left my team in high school because I felt that I did not have enough free time with our daily hour drives each way to the river and my homework. Little did I know how much of my life would become about rowing a few years later. After a year and a half at UVA as a normal student, I began to feel that I had unfinished business with the sport. I missed having a team, I missed having a purpose and I missed pushing myself.
I had been chased across the UVA grounds by an assistant coach my first year, who asked me, "Have you ever heard of rowing? You're so tall!" I told him, "Yes I have, and I am never doing it again." Funny thing is, I ended up calling him less than six months later and saying, "So...do you still have a spot for me?" The rest is history.
row2k - You are now a captain, how has that changed your experience on the team?
Grace Tuttle - I have become a lot more conscious of the impact of those who came before me. So little of what I am able to accomplish here is possible because of me. The girls who came before me laid a foundation for the kind of work ethic, dedication, discipline and commitment that it takes to be a competitive rower. I was able to latch onto that because of their example.
Being a captain is something I do not take lightly, and I desire to give back to the people who pushed me to be my best self. We have a responsibility to prepare the younger girls to fill our shoes when we leave. Our head coach Kevin Sauer, at his core, wants us to leave Virginia as capable, empowered, compassionate and strong women. Having the chance to be mentored by Kevin and the chance to be a leader on this team are things I will always be thankful for.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Grace Tuttle - Rowing challenges me to my core. There are days where I feel all my physical and mental strength is gone, and somehow I have to keep going because the girls in front of me and behind me are still going. I cannot let them down. They get me through. As you get more experienced in the sport, you start to see that succeeding is going to take some real pain. You have to find reasons to make the pain worth it. You start to find purpose in every early morning, every stroke on the erg. It all counts. Coming through those hardest days, you realize that you cannot do it by yourself. When it goes right, when you hit that swing and you feel your teammates concentrating and pulling together, there are few things more exhilarating than that. It makes it all worth it.
row2k - To what extent has rowing impacted/changed your life?
Grace Tuttle - This may sound cheesy, but rowing has saved my life. Before I joined the UVA team I was an anxious, overweight and lost college student who had zero self-confidence and zero concept of what I was capable of accomplishing. Rowing has given me a set of lifelong friends and mentors who believed in me long before I felt I could believe in myself. I believe the skills I've learned here will serve me for the rest of my life.
Tuttle at ACCs
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Grace Tuttle - My most memorable race was last year at the Clemson Invite. I was in the 2V4 and we were ahead by open water until the last 500m. We ended up losing the race by 0.007 seconds. We should have won. I will never forget asking myself "could you have given more? Could you have done something differently?" I do not want to have to ask myself questions like that in any area of my life.
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring for yourself and the team?
Grace Tuttle - Preparing for the spring season is difficult but very exciting. We have a limited amount of time to make a decision about what kind of team we are going to be. I had a bit of a rough fall and missed almost a month due to illness. It has really dawned on me that this is my last season as a collegiate rower, and I want to leave without any regrets. We are making a conscious effort as a team to have a culture that lifts each other up and pushes each other beyond our limits. I feel we are onto something special and I am anxiously awaiting the racing season. I believe very strongly in my teammates. If we are going to do it, why don't we go all the way?
row2k - You're now a grad student at Virginia, what are you studying now and do you have any post-university plans yet?
Grace Tuttle - I am studying Educational Psychology, and my post-university plans are still taking shape, but I am hoping to stay in the Central Virginia area. A lot of my family lives nearby and I have really grown to love this place. I am hoping to work as a case manager for developmentally and intellectually disabled adults. I would be helping them to find appropriate housing, employment, access to social services and other things that can improve their quality of life.