row2k Features
In the Novice Seat: UNC's Lydia Houle
December 13, 2022
John FX Flynn

Lydia Houle, in the 4 seat, racing with Carolina at the Romp

The second installment of our limited-run look at a few newly-minted collegiate rowers who found themselves 'In the Novice Seat' this past semester.

Next up is Lydia Houle, who walked on to the University of North Carolina team as a sophomore at the this fall. She raced at the Rivanna Romp in the four seat of the Tar Heels' Novice Eight in November.

We hope you enjoy reading about Lydia's recent experiences-—and maybe get to remember a few of your own—-of hopping In the Novice Seat 

row2k - How did you find out you could walk-on to rowing at your school?

Lydia Houle - I was vaguely familiar with the walk-on process that many college teams and sports offered but didn't know much about the specific process or expectations for those interested. I learned about the opportunity to walk-on to Carolina Rowing through my freshman-year roommate.

She underwent the walk-on process and joined the team in the Spring of 2022 and encouraged me to try out this fall. I love having the opportunity to be her teammate and am incredibly grateful for her encouragement to try-out and her support through the whole process. 

row2k - What is the best part of the sport—-or your team—-so far?

Lydia Houle - I love how selfless this sport is. Everything that I do has the potential to either help or hurt my team, and I'm constantly striving to achieve the former. I push myself every single day to help my teammates, knowing that each and every one of them is doing the same for me.

There's not a ton of individual and personal recognition in rowing, and I admire that. Each time I push myself to get better, I'm pushing to represent my teammates and my school. I have enjoyed seeing myself improve over the course of this past semester, but I know that I'm competing for something so much bigger than myself.

row2k - What has been the hardest thing to learn or 'get right' so far?

Lydia Houle - My first practice on the water, I felt so uncoordinated and un-athletic. The boat was unset, I struggled through every single stroke, and I was holding the oar so tight my knuckles turned white. It felt like I had regressed to the coordination of a toddler, and I just couldn't seem to translate the technique of a proper stroke from the ergs into the actual boat. It's one thing to perform well in a land workout, and a whole other thing to perform well on the water.

This definitely shocked me -- I expected to perform on the water at the same level that I was able to on the erg. But it's so important (yet very challenging) to get the on-the-water technique right. I basically have unlimited access to ergs and land workouts through school facilities and local gyms, but I only have specific hours each day with the opportunity to practice on the water. My technique is still far from perfect, and I've got lots of learning left to do this upcoming season.

row2k - What has been your favorite workout in rowing, and what has been the hardest rowing workout you’ve done?

Lydia Houle - I really enjoyed the 6k time trial that we completed in practice. As a person who is new to the sport, I had no idea what I was capable of, and while there was an expectation to perform well, I had no measuring stick with which to compare my score.

My first time rowing a 6k, it was an exciting opportunity to see what I was capable of. Now that I have one under my belt, I now know how to make adjustments to improve, and will hopefully only get stronger and faster from that first time!

Being new to the sport also has its downfalls during workouts. Sometimes I'll feel really great on my first piece and pull a time that I can't maintain throughout my whole workout. My inexperience becomes apparent when I struggle to pace myself and burn out at the end. I remember this happening when we raced multiple 2ks in the same practice. During my first piece I pulled a new personal best, but then wasn't able to maintain that same pace on the later sets. The rest of my workout went really poorly because I hadn't yet learned how to remain consistent. 

row2k - Can you tell us a bit about your previous sport(s)? What is the biggest difference about rowing?

Lydia Houle - I have been an athlete my entire life and have competed in many sports. I particularly enjoyed competing in track as a mid-distance sprinter.

I've found that rowing and track are very similar -- not in the required skill sets but in the mental drive that is important when practicing and competing. To some degree, both sports are a mental battle between you and your opponent to see who can push their body through the most exhaustion and pain. Day in and day out, you are not only required to train physically, but also mentally. I really enjoyed this mental challenge when competing as a track athlete and am happy to have found this same drive while rowing.

Rowing, however, presents a different reasoning for this mindset while competing. I have found that during competition, I am not rowing for myself in the hopes of achieving a personal best, but instead I'm pushing through exhaustion and pain for the girls in front of me and the girls behind me. Rowing is different from track in the sense that there is no personal glory. I am expected to pull my hardest on every single stroke of the race, but if I don't work as part of a team, I won't be successful. I really appreciate that about rowing -- it's a group effort through and through. 

In this novice's near-future? UNC racing at last spring's 2022 ACC Championships
In this novice's near-future? UNC racing at last spring's 2022 ACC Championships

row2k - What is the weirdest thing you’ve encountered in the sport that rowers find “normal”?

Lydia Houle - Upon joining the team at Carolina, I was surprised to discover how many girls on the team had also undergone the walk-on process.

Rowing is a very technical sport, and I expected that a large majority of the team would have previous experience with rowing. However, I found that many of my teammates had never rowed before coming to Carolina. It was very interesting to me that so many people were able to compete in this sport at such a high level with no prior training.

I also think it's unique that, among the girls who have walked-on to the team, they all have different athletic backgrounds. There is not one specific sport skill set that translates to rowing better than others, all that seems to matter is that an individual is mentally tough and willing to physically push themselves every single day. I think that's a testament not only to the girls on the team and their willingness to learn and push themselves, but also serves as a testament to the coaches who have given these girls a chance and have invested so much time in teaching them a brand-new sport at a very competitive level. 

Thank you to Lydia--and the UNC coaching staff--for taking the time to share what it's like to be In the Novice Seat, and we wish Lydia the best through the winter and into her novice racing season next spring.

UNC on finals day at ACCs in 2022
UNC on finals day at ACCs in 2022

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