row2k continues our 2024 spring collegiate racing preview with an interview with Iowa Junior rower Molly Shannon. We chat with her on finding the sport, her singing career, and more.
row2k - You started rowing as a novice at Iowa, what was your athletic background prior to enrolling and how did you end up in Iowa City?
Molly Shannon - For as long as I can remember, I have been an athlete. I tried to play every sport I could, and I ended up being a five-sport athlete by the time I was a freshman in high school. I did swimming in the fall, basketball in the winter, soccer and track in the spring, and I was a dancer year-round. My favorite was definitely swimming, and I had even planned on swimming in college until I was approached about becoming a collegiate rower at the University of Iowa. I did the recruiting process, graduated high school and found myself learning to row on the Iowa River come August 2021. My class of Freshmen novice rowers were an impressive bunch and I wasn't sure if I was cut out to be a rower, much less a college student. But, after thousands of hours of training, we have come a long way from freshman year and Iowa City has become my new home.
There were definitely people in my life who strongly encouraged me to look into Iowa, solely for the amazing experience it is to just be a student on campus. But, the support for female athletes at Iowa is beyond anything I had seen before and I wanted to be apart of the that. As I have gone through my time at Iowa, I have learned more and more about the history of Title IX and how rowing was a huge part of that process.
row2k - How did you find your way into the rowing program?
Molly Shannon - I cannot lie when I say that I did not know much about rowing before coming to the University of Iowa. Being from the Midwest, there are very few opportunities to be a rower and frankly I had really only watched rowing when the Olympics would air on TV. So, when I was approached by my high school strength training coach, Mike Griswold, about an email he received about rowing at Iowa, I thought he was kidding! But, the more we looked into it, the more I considered the thought. So, after a lot of convincing from former coaches, I sent in my recruiting information and the next thing I knew I was learning to row at Iowa! I knew going into college that I wanted to find a community of people with values akin to mine, but I never imagined anything quite like this!
row2k - You're a fairly accomplished singer throughout Iowa, how did you get your start and how would you describe your music?
Molly Shannon - Growing up I was surrounded by musicians, and my mom was always encouraging my brothers and I to be musical in any way possible. So, when I was 9, I started doing talent shows, singing the national anthem at the local ballpark, and singing karaoke every chance I got. After a few years of choir and singing in the shower, I decided to get guitar lessons at age 13. In high school, I was crowned Miss Clinton County's Outstanding Teen through the Miss America organization, and I started playing gigs to raise money for various charities through this program. I realized that I could potentially pay my way through college if I played enough gigs, so I started asking local establishments if I could come in and play for free hoping to earn some money through tips.
Word started to spread and by the time I was 16, I was playing shows every weekend all around Iowa and saving up for college one show at a time. I sang at dive bars, birthday parties, graduation parties, fundraisers and even a family reunion in the middle of nowhere Iowa. I think people often have me perform at their events due to my vast range of song choices that gives everyone something they might enjoy. But, my favorite genre to sing and write about is country!
row2k - How do you balance school, rowing, and music?
Molly Shannon - Our team at the University of Iowa has created a culture of support that has allowed several athletes on our team to pursue things that they love all while getting an education. Our coaches are constantly reminding us that our well-being comes first and then school and rowing are to follow. I have thrived off the structure that rowing gives me from week to week and I love knowing I have guaranteed time in my day-to-day life that I can be with my friends and get a great workout in. But, when I do get stressed about booking gigs, I know I can call home and my Mom helps to run my social media for performances and takes phone calls from potential customers.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Molly Shannon - Going off of the last question, our team culture at Iowa Rowing is the best thing that has come along with my rowing journey. Our coaches Jeff Garbutt, Megan Fitzpatrick, Katie Thurstin, and Lowell McNicholas have helped all of us in ways I will be forever grateful for. I never thought that I would have the support of 75 women in college and a passionate, dedicated coaching staff that would do anything to support our team.
Even though the University of Iowa has over 20,000 undergraduate students, I can walk to class every day and easily see 5-10 rowers on any given day making Iowa feel much smaller than it is. Rowing has given all of us a place to come together and work through the hardships of life together as a family. In saying that, when I have a gig in Iowa City, there are typically 30-40 rowers that show up to support me by singing along and filling the crowd! These women have showed me the true meaning of friendship and I cannot wait to see what each of them do in life after Iowa Rowing.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race and why?
Molly Shannon - My most memorable race was definitely our "silent race" in North Carolina in the Spring of 2023. Our 1V8 was a solid group of women that had a great morning session coming off of a win, but nobody was feeling their best including myself. But while us rowers were struggling with fatigue, our coxswain Cara Burns was having trouble with her voice. Coach Garbutt did not have an ounce of worry in his voice when telling us that Cara was going to cox our race with no voice and hype us up at certain points in the race by banging loudly on the side of the boat.
I can't lie, I was terrified going into this, but we all came together, did our normal pre-race routine and crushed that race. In fact, we all said that the race was one of our best and we like to joke with Cara that "we don't need her" even though she is a phenomenal coxswain and we most definitely need her. This race really showed our boat how powerful this team is and how easily we can overcome battles when they're thrown our way.
row2k - What are you studying at Iowa and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Molly Shannon - I am currently studying Elementary Education and I plan on getting my master's in special education. As of right now, I am planning on student teaching in the Nashville area in the Spring of 2026 with the hope of finding a few gigs to play at the local establishments there! I have a few connections to some venues, so I am looking forward to leaving Iowa to try and pursue my dreams of being a performer all while teaching young people in the process.