The fourth installment of our limited-run look at a few newly-minted collegiate rowers who found themselves 'In the Novice Seat' this past fall.
This week, we meet Ava Almerico, who walked on at the University of Alabama this fall and learned a thing or two about blisters, and teamwork, with her new teammates.
We hope you enjoy reading about Ava'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 Alabama?
Ava Almerico - I was laying in my bed one afternoon and was scrolling through my phone. I was going through all of my emails when I came across an email from Alabama, titled, "Great Athletes Wanted--Become an Alabama Rower!"
Before receiving this email, I hadn’t ever heard of rowing as a sport. As I read through the email, I realized that I fit the characteristics of the type of person they were looking for: Someone with a competitive mindset, grit, a positive team-first attitude, a willingness to learn, and a relentless work ethic.
I remember laying in my bed and researching rowing, trying to figure out if this sport was something I would want to do, as well as something I could be good at. I looked up the Alabama Rowing Instagram page and was blown away by the ability of these girls. I wanted to be a part of that.
Although apprehensive at first, I filled out the interest form attached to the email. I am so glad I did, as that decision led me to where I am now.
row2k - What is the best part of the sport—-or your team—-so far?
Ava Almerico - I would say that the best part of the sport is how hard it pushes you both mentally and physically.
When I was first looking into rowing after receiving that email, the videos online made me think that rowing would be easy. Boy, was I wrong. Rowing is the hardest thing I have ever done. It pushes me to my limits and is a sport that requires a lot of dedication. Not only does it require immense physical strength and resilience but it also requires an insane amount of mental strength. Rowing has made me mentally stronger. I have learned to push through even when my whole body is telling me to stop.
A great thing about rowing is that although you are going through so much mentally, you have teammates that are also going through the same mental and physical pain as you. Having a team behind me makes everything I do so much more important. I practice with and for the team.
One of my favorite parts of being on the Alabama rowing team is the support we give to one another. We all put in the effort together and achieve our goals together. In the end, we are in it together and we are in it to win it.
row2k - What has been the hardest thing to learn or 'get right' so far?
Ava Almerico - I think the hardest thing to learn has been technique when out on the water. I think that it is easy to overlook the additional elements that are added when you move from an erg to a boat.
You are no longer just pushing as hard as you can on a machine. On the water, you now have an oar in your hands, which needs to be held and manipulated a certain way.
One of the biggest things I had to work on when transitioning to rowing on the water was making sure my blade was square in the water before pushing with my legs. I had been struggling with--and still sometimes struggle with--rushing up to the catch and then not taking time to fully submerge and square my blade before pushing with that driving force to set the boat in motion. If you do not fully square your blade before submerging, you are in danger of catching a crab. When I first went out on the water, I caught plenty of crabs.
After working on my technique and putting in the practice, I have gotten much better about squaring my blade and no longer consider myself an avid crabber!
row2k - What has been your favorite workout in rowing, and what has been the hardest rowing workout you’ve done?
Ava Almerico - I think my favorite workout in rowing is running stadiums. Although quite strenuous and intense, the feeling after running the stairs of Bryant Denny Stadium is unmatched. Every time I have finished the stadiums in the past, I am drenched in sweat and my legs feel like noodles. Despite this, the adrenaline and endorphin rush is amazing. Every time I think to myself, "Wow, we just did that."
The hardest workout I've done in rowing is definitely AT workouts on the erg. I think the hardest one I ever did was a 5x5min, at stroke rates of 24, 26, 28, 26, 24. This was the hardest to me, as it was the very first AT workout I ever completed.
AT workouts are where you push yourself the absolute hardest, until you feel like you are on the edge of physical failure. In my experience, if you do these workouts right, you will need a long nap right after the workout!
row2k - Can you tell us a bit about your previous sport(s)? What is the biggest difference about rowing?
Ava Almerico - Throughout middle school and high school, I did competitive horseback riding. I competed in hunter jumper, which means I did competitive show jumping. Riders are judged based on the horse's movements over fences, as well as equitation, which is the position of the rider on the horse.
The biggest difference between horseback riding and rowing is that horseback riding is a very individual sport. When competing, it's just you and your horse. Although I rode under the name of a specific farm, the team environment was not there like it is in rowing.
I love rowing because I see it as both an individual and team sport. It's individual in the fact that everyday I go in to practice and try to be a better version of me. I am competing with myself and trying to beat my past times and splits. At the same time, the sport is very much a team sport in the fact that you rely on each other to practice and perform well in races. In the end, we are all pushing ourselves so that together we can get stronger. The team aspect adds a lot of accountability and also makes things so much more enjoyable and fun!
row2k - What is the weirdest thing you’ve encountered in the sport that rowers find “normal”?
Ava Almerico - The weirdest thing I've encountered in this sport is how normalized it is to have your hands all torn up! I remember when I first went out on the water and I came back in with a bunch of blisters. Those blisters would heal only to be torn back up again, even with the use of lots and lots of tape. I thought that maybe something had gone horribly wrong, but in reality, my experience was far from a unique one!
I later learned that holding the oar too tight can be a reason blisters form, but that blisters are very normal and part of the process. After many practices of wrapping my hands like a mummy, I can say that I now have a decent amount of calluses built up to protect myself. It's all part of the process! No pain, no gain!
Thank you to Ava--and the Alabama coaching staff--for taking the time to share what it's like to be In the Novice Seat, and we wish Ava the best through the winter and into the racing season this spring.
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