This week's row2k Interview is with Cornell junior Amelia Clute. We chat with Clute on her love of food and how it led her to Ithaca from California.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing?
Amelia Clute - I started rowing at Oakland Strokes about three years after my older sister started rowing there as well. My family has always leaned towards water sports — my oldest sister was a swimmer, my brother a waterpolo player, and my middle sister a rower. I started rowing my sophomore year of high school, which I actually think is one of the most unique parts of our sport. People start so late as compared to sports like soccer in which athletes begin at the age of seven or even younger.
Rowing, on the other hand, is so open to so many older athletes even if they've never touched a boat before. Some of the best rowers I know from Cornell were walk-ons, and I love being part of a sport where any newcomer could immediately be competitive. It's a great equalizer, if that makes any sense; sure, a rower who's been in the game for five years will have an initial advantage over a newcomer for a couple months, but people can pick up rowing so quickly that that experience is only a true advantage for a short time. Anyone can become a great rower without a lifetime of experience, and I absolutely love it.
row2k - You’re now a Junior at Cornell, how did you end up in Ithaca from California?
Amelia Clute - I actually started looking at Cornell because of their emphasis on food — a couple days before the Cornell coach at the time was coming to look at a practice in Oakland, a friend of mine came up to me and said something along the lines of, "You're looking at Cornell, right? They're huge on food over there."
So the food was what got me initially interested in the school, but the team relationships at Cornell that I saw on my official really made me want to stay. At Cornell, there is such an intense friendship between the women, lightweights, and heavyweights, as well as between seniors and freshmen. It's incredibly comforting to be on campus and have a built in social circle of almost 100 people who you're comfortable having lunch with or studying with.
row2k - You have your own baking business, can you tell us a bit about how that came about?
Amelia Clute - I started selling cakes, cupcakes, and cookies in high school after a childhood obsession with Ace of Cakes — and I still do through my website EarhartSweets.com! I love challenging myself through food and cake decorating. Once I got to Cornell, however, I was exposed to a more academic side of food that I completely fell in love with. After taking Food Studies, an introductory course to food's impact on American society, my freshman year of college, I saw food completely differently. Suddenly, cooking was not just a hobby that I partook in when I had time — I came to see that food was a powerful force that impacts almost every part of daily life. It strengthens social bonds between people who may have nothing else in common and reinforces our own identity. Cuisine is a marker of culture and group-memory, making it extremely personal to each individual.
Clute in stroke for Big Red
As a result, I applied to pursue an interdisciplinary major and am now studying food as a tool in religious ritual throughout antiquity. When I think about food's link to culture, I have so many questions that it's almost overwhelming; I guess that means that I just have a lot left to learn though, and it's incredibly exciting. Without the academic support that Cornell has provided, I would never have been able to discover just how much food fascinates me from an analytical/academic perspective. If you're ever in Ithaca, check out Kroch Library's huge collection of antique cookbooks — it's really incredible! After graduation, I would love to pursue anything that lets me keep asking questions. Whether that be through journalism, research for things like historical TV shows, or even a masters/PhD, we'll see!
row2k - How well did you and your team cope with all the unexpected COVID-19 issues in the spring and fall?
Amelia Clute - March 11th was a rough day in the boathouse. Throughout the entire summer quarantine and into the fall semester, we've really tried to stay sane and motivated by helping each other out. When we got back to campus in August, the seniors especially made a huge push to promote team bonding and get to know the freshman class in Covid friendly ways. It was really admirable to see our seniors rally and do whatever they could to help us all feel like a team again. It's been hard not being able to just go out to breakfast with the freshmen, or invite them over for movie nights like would happen in a normal year; but we're doing what we can, and at least it'll be a story to tell!
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Amelia Clute - God, if there's anything I learned over quarantine, it's how much I love rowing. For myself and for so many other athletes out there, it's truly a rock in our lives; I love the repetition, and the hypnotic feeling of erging perfectly in time with 30 other rowers. Nothing is more unifying. Additionally, practice gives the day structure and presents a challenge for us to overcome. It's cheesy, and every coach says it, but each day really is an opportunity to prove something to yourself. If nothing else, nothing compares to the feeling of coming home to your local gym for summer break, sitting down on an erg next to a gym rat in a stringer tank top, and pulling 20 splits faster than him.