This week's row2k Interview is with San Diego State senior coxswain Hannah Broadland. We chat with Broadland on coxing at the World University Games, her role as a coxswain, and how her team dealt with the news of their program getting cut last fall. Editor's Note: row2k conducted most of this interview in spring 2020 but held off publishing it after the cancellation of the 2020 spring season due to COVID-19.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing, and how did you find your way to coxing at San Diego State?
Hannah Broadland - I grew up in Sacramento, California right next to Lake Natoma, so I was always curious about the boats I would see rowing out on the water. My best friend and I decided to do a weeklong “Learn to Row” camp through the Sacramento State Aquatic Center the summer before my freshman year of high school and we both immediately fell in love with the sport. Although I originally had my heart set on being a rower, the realities of being 5’2” and 80 pounds set in pretty early. I ended up being a coxswain for Capital Crew for four years and absolutely loved every second of it.
The atmosphere and mentality of that team - set in place by a fantastic facility, inspiring coaches, and amazing teammates, is beyond anything I could have ever expected from a high school program. I was given the perfect foundation to improve as a coxswain and a person. My senior year the San Diego State University head coach, Bill Zack, came out to watch a practice and we immediately clicked. I had always envisioned myself coxing for a school in San Diego, especially after going to San Diego Crew Classic my junior year, so having a good connection with such an experienced coach really solidified my decision about signing my NLI with San Diego State University.
row2k - You coxed the USA W8+ to a bronze medal at the 2018 World University Games, what are some of your most vivid memories from that summer?
Hannah Broadland - Summer of 2018 was my first taste of what the world of high-performance rowing was like, and it will forever be remembered as my favorite summer. I got the opportunity to live with and train alongside a team of like-minded, competitive, and passionate athletes in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We all grew such a unique bond with each other, and I made some truly special, lifelong friendships. After preparing for two and a half months we departed for Shanghai, China to compete in the 2018 World University Games, but none of us really had any clue what we were about to experience.
Bronze medal at 2018 University Games
The feeling of sitting at the starting blocks before the grand final alongside so many unbelievably strong and inspirational women from around the world is something that can never be matched. Even better was getting to share this experience with a team and coaching staff I cared about and respected so deeply; earning a bronze medal was just the cherry on top of an all-around fantastic summer.
row2k - You spent the summer of 2019 in selection for the USA U23 team, what was that experience like?
Hannah Broadland - Heading into selection camp for the USA U23 team I was a bit nervous, but also super excited for the opportunity to get to showcase my skills and work alongside some of the best athletes in the country. Coming from a school that has never competed at the NCAA championships, I knew I was going to have to bring my A-game to prove myself to the coaches and other athletes. Despite this pressure, I could feel myself getting better and more confident every day just from working with such a high-performance oriented group of people. Although I didn’t end up making the 2019 World Championships team, I wouldn’t have given up this experience for anything. The atmosphere created by my fellow rowers and coxswains was uber-competitive while still remaining supportive. On top of this, the coaching staff was the most knowledgeable, fair, and lively group of rowing coaches that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. If anybody is debating whether or not they should apply for the team, I highly recommend it; not only will you thrive as an athlete, but you will grow as a person as well.
row2k - What are some of the most important things you learned over that summer that will improve your coxing this season?
Hannah Broadland - Throughout those two summers I learned new things about rowing technique and boat feel every day. When you spend 2-4 hours a day on the water with coaches and rowers from different programs around the country, you really start to understand just how personal rowing is. Each team has a unique style of rowing and training, so getting to share that experience with a completely new team over summer leaves you no choice but to learn and adapt as fast as possible. So, I would say one of the most important skills I gained over the past two summers would be learning how to quickly acclimate to new circumstances, coaching/rowing styles, and environments. This has helped broaden my understanding of the sport and allowed me to be a better coxswain overall. I am able to explain various technical concepts in multiple different ways so I can unite my crew better and become clearer with my calls.
I have also felt myself gain more maturity in regard to rowing being such a team-oriented sport; it is so important to be able to work closely with a crew and alter your coxing style accordingly to create the best dynamic possible. This past season I started asking my SDSU teammates for their thoughts and suggestions every day, and it has led to some of the best lineups and rows I’ve experienced at the school. I am very lucky to get to work with an awesome group of athletes who really embrace my desire to improve as a coxswain; I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without the constant support I receive from my teammates and coaching staff.
row2k - How do you view your role as coxswain on your team?
Hannah Broadland - The basic roles of a coxswain include steering, running practices, and calling out information like splits and technical changes for your crew. Throughout my years of coxing and getting feedback from various coaches, my perspective on how a coxswain fits into a crew has drastically changed. When I first began coxing, I would always call out what was already happening in the boat, basically serving as a cheerleader to the boat. As I’ve grown and refined my skills, I’ve altered my coxing from being a cheerleader to be a decision maker. In the boat a coxswain must be able to unify the crew and use boat feel and spatial awareness to decide what calls must be made and how to make them.
row2k - What’s your favorite aspect of rowing?
Hannah Broadland - The training it takes to be a successful rowing team is extremely time consuming, repetitive, and straining. As a team you learn to embrace the training and trust the process, which can result in some serious grit and unbreakable bonds. So, after hours and hours of relentless practices, racing season is a time when you get to really break through and show your progress from all the hard work. Being a coxswain means that you’re responsible for orchestrating the calls throughout a 2k race in a way that brings your crew to victory. This can bring a lot of pressure but is also the most rewarding part of the sport to me. When you’re in the third 500 of a 2k and you’re battling with other boats to get your bow ball ahead, there are a lot of things going through everybody’s head, but as a coxswain you get to really zone in your crew and merge your efforts into one solid stroke. The feeling of making a call and executing it properly as a boat to move your bow ball ahead is definitely the most exhilarating and gratifying part of rowing for me.
Broadland, right, at SDCC
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Hannah Broadland - My most memorable race was also the first race for which I ever earned a medal. My junior year of high school at Capital Crew was very competitive and we spent two weeks of constant seat racing to make our final lineups for the SW Junior Regional Championships. I ended up being the coxswain for the JV8+, a boat that was filled with some of my best friends. We had all worked extremely hard to earn our spot and that created a level of trust and respect we had for each other that could never be broken. In the final at the SWJRC we started off in last place but slowly advanced throughout the middle 1000. I just remember banging on the gunnels and feeling so united with the boat as we slowly walked through other crews with our moves. We crossed the finish line in third place, and it was, for many of us, our first time medaling in a race. We were beyond excited and filled with so much love for each other; I’ll never forget seeing my stroke seat throw her oar away from her and giving me the biggest bear hug. Our coach had biked over as fast as she could from the finish line and met us at the dock with a huge smile, which made the moment even sweeter. Although this isn’t the most important race I’ll ever have, it taught me just how special this sport and the community that surrounds it can be.
row2k - How well did you and your team cope with all the unexpected COVID-19 issues in the spring and fall?
Hannah Broadland - Although it's been almost an entire year since our season was abruptly cut short due to COVID-19, our practices are still heavily affected by the protocols we must follow in order to train in the safest and smartest way possible. Thankfully our team and coaching staff have really embraced these changes and challenges, working together to create the best possible training environment. We made the active choice to prioritize the mental and physical health of all our teammates through abiding by the rules, cultivating a high-spirited and competitive culture, and committing to fully supporting each other both on and off the water.
row2k - Have there been any silver linings after the Aztec program was cut in November, and how have you and your teammates responded?
Hannah Broadland - Hearing the news that the SDSU athletic department decided to cut women's rowing was absolutely heartbreaking. All of the hard work and passion that our teammates, coaches, alumni, and prospective athletes have put into this school and amazing sport seemed completely disregarded, which left us feeling gutted. With that being said, this has given us all an opportunity to prove without any doubt just how much we love this sport. We refuse to let the SDSU athletic department's grossly negligent, disrespectful, and outright disgusting choice of cutting our sport ruin our final season; as a group we have come together and turned every aspect of this situation into a silver lining. Female athletes are unbelievably strong and resilient, and as a team we look forward to proving that by fighting for our rights and pouring everything we have into our last season.