row2k kicks off our 2020 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Cornell lightweight junior Tristan Wiese. We talked with Wiese about transitioning to the sport from Nordic Skiing and his plans for the future.
row2k - You came to rowing from a Nordic skiing background, tell us about that.
Tristan Wiese - I picked up Nordic skiing in middle school after transitioning from swimming. As a beginner it took some time for me to get the technical piece of the sport. My freshman year in HS, I started to do well in skiing while skiing for the Newfoundland provincial team. I did well in several provincial races representing Newfoundland and attended the Canadian National Championship. It was a blast preparing for it, but unfortunately, I had a setback during final training day before the first race and fell short of my goals.
For my sophomore year of high school, I moved back to Anchorage, AK and trained/raced on the state team for my high school, during which time we won two state team championships and trained/raced as part of the APUNSC juniors club team. This launched me onto the next level of US National and Junior Nationals races, and some international racing in Greenland and elsewhere in Canada where I saw a decent amount of success. My senior year I was named to the first team All-American.
row2k - How did you end up at Cornell and on the lightweight rowing team?
Tristan Wiese - I ended up Cornell because I wanted to attend a top tier Animal Science program and set myself up to be a top candidate at the best Vet School on the globe, and Cornell has both! I had done extensive work with veterinarians growing up, so I knew for certain that I wanted to go into veterinary medicine in some way.
I had no intention of rowing in college, but as an undergrad at Cornell, all students are required to take a 75-meter swim test. The first day on campus, I was in the pool, by some coincidence with some of the freshmen recruits on the lightweight team. Once I finished the swim test, our current senior coxswain Lindsey Gibbons, and another walk-on Luke Sofair ‘19 started talking to me about starting a new sport. I explained that I was a skier and likely picking up rowing was a reach for me. I had never rowed before so it didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time trying to become a D1 lightweight rower. But my first meeting with an assertive coxswain in Lindsey, a passionate junior walk-on in Luke and a few other interactions early on convinced me to join the walk-on class, and now I’ve been on the team for 3 years, rowing and consistently racing in my second season.
row2k - What are some of the sport’s similarities and differences compared to Nordic skiing?
Tristan Wiese - For me, there were a surprising amount of similarities between rowing and skiing. The obvious ones are the extreme importance of fitness and strength, but also the mental and emotional requirements of putting yourself deep in the pain cave to push yourself past the discomfort and against the physical limits in order to perform. It is what I loved about Nordic skiing and what I love about rowing.
The biggest differences are in some aspects of training and racing. Training for rowing is taxing for sure, but being on the rowing machine, where every stroke you take is monitored, makes the training significantly hard, but it also keeps you accountable to your output. In ski training, you are outside, you go as fast as feels appropriate and gauge workouts against the terrain and the snow conditions. When we train outside, there is no need for a coach to be present, so you can easily put in work outside of practice. In rowing you can do the same on the erg, but in rowing always need a group of athletes to take out a boat. What I like about Nordic Skiing is you can always just take your skis and go for a rip out on the trails.
The racing is slightly different too. In a crew, you go as hard as you can for 6 minutes and just more than double that time for a head race. You do what your coxswain says and make sure you are in time with your boatmates. Ski races are grueling, and the distances vary, being anywhere from 1.5k to 50k in length. You have to get into your own rhythm and apply your own race tactics, and you often race in a field of 50 or more competitors. The racing is just a completely different beast.
row2k - What’s your favorite aspect of rowing?
Tristan Wiese - My favorite aspect of rowing is how close being a crew brings you to your boatmates and being able to experience a next level of trust between yourself and your boatmates.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race so far and why?
Tristan Wiese - By far the most memorable race I’ve had so far in my rowing career was last year’s Platt Cup. One of the 1st varsity guys fell sick less than 24 hours before the race. All the boats had new line-ups, one outing and one warm up to prepare. The pressure was on. The race between the Princeton Tigers and us are historically relentless, as they are one of our toughest competitors in every boat. I raced in the 3V, and the Tigers got off the line much faster than we did. We spent 1500 meters chasing to get back into them. At one point they had about a seat of open margin. In the last 500 meters, our boat surged and the momentum shifted in our favor! We walked back but at this point neither crew was going to give in. It was even and everybody was pulling as hard as they could. The last two strokes before the line determined the outcome. I honestly had no clue whether or not we had won until I saw the results. We had and it was exhilarating!
row2k - How has this season gone so far and what are your goals for the spring for yourself and the team?
Tristan Wiese - So far, this season is going pretty well, we had a decent fall and it definitely left us wanting a bit more. The team is strong. We are training hard and looking forward to this spring. There is a lot of speed in the league this year, and being in a league where who is fast is not related to any previous seasons, brings the best out of us all. For me, last September, I started my second full year in the boat and I am much more aware of what’s going on in the boat. The boat, the erg and the team continue to push me and make me the best that I can be on and off the water. I still have a heck of a lot of work to do though. Personally, I am looking to contribute to the top boat and improve on the legacy the previous crews have left. It is definitely going to be a very big task.
row2k - What are you studying at Cornell and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Tristan Wiese - I am an Animal Science major, which I am finding increasingly interesting and has led me to start a new position at an animal reproduction lab on campus. It is great to see where this is all going. After I graduate I am planning to go to veterinary school, but I might also look into doing a PhD. I am honestly not really sure what I am going to do. But I do know I’ve got practice at 5!