row2k Features
Cornell's Solveig Imsdahl
March 5, 2013
Erik Dresser,

Imsdahl (right) at 2012 Schuylkill Navy Regatta

This week's row2k Interview is with Cornell senior rower Solveig Imsdahl. Imsdahl was raised and learned to row in Germany and has spent the past two summers sculling on the USA U-23 team.

row2k - How did you get your start in rowing and why did you decide to row at Cornell?
Solveig Imsdahl - During winter break of 2005 my two older brothers came home (to Germany) after their first semesters of College in the U.S. My twin sister and I weren’t seriously involved in any sport at the moment, and our brothers—after joining Princeton and MIT crew—wouldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed it and that Marit and I had the right build and height for it as well. Fortunately there was a rowing club just a few minutes from our school, where we would work out after class. I remember that, more than once, we arrived at school only to find that the first two hours of class had been canceled, so we would take the opportunity to dash to the boathouse, get changed and put in an early morning workout on the glassy water as the sun slipped up over the horizon—those magical morning rows sparked my interest in rowing. Another aspect I immediately liked about rowing was that it’s one of the few sports where you have the option of competing either by yourself or as a team, which was important for me, since my sister and I worked well together.

I decided to row at Cornell, because I realized I needed the combination of academic and athletic challenges and the program appeared to offer both. I wanted to be part of a team that was as passionate about rowing as I was and knew what it meant to share moments of success with team mates.

row2k - You grew up in Germany, what are some the difference between rowing in the U.S. and Germany?
Solveig Imsdahl - Although both the German and the U.S. programs appear to be effective in producing winning teams at the international level, the methods they use are seemingly different.

The German system has its strengths in providing rowing clubs for competitive rowing at an early age. Most novices are in their early teens when they start learning how to scull in Germany, whereas my understanding of the U.S. rowing system is that rowers, right away at the prep-school level, are introduced to sweeping with their initiation to the sport and therefore usually have little or no experience in sculling before they are required to work one side of the boat or the other. By the time I was introduced to sweeping, I had already had a few years of sculling experience; this small-boat rowing gave me a good sense of balance and an appreciation for what my capabilities are. If you are in a single and you are not moving across the water as you would like, you can only look at your own technique, whereas in a boat of four or eight, it may be more challenging to really gain a feel for what exactly is making you inefficient. Though it took me a little while to get used to rowing in synch with seven others, and listening to a coxswain, I am fortunate to have had the years of sculling as a base.

My experience with the German rowing system was that it was well organized, highly regimented and practice that usually lasted a little longer. At Cornell, where students are as dedicated to academic success as they are to athletics, practices tend to be shorter, with more work at higher intensity, driven by team spirit that creates a highly competitive group of collegiate rowers.

row2k - You spent the last two summers on the US U23 lightweight team, what was that experience like and what was the most important thing you learned from that experience?
Solveig Imsdahl - When I showed up at the U23 sculling camp, I remember feeling like a novice, since I hadn’t sculled in a while, had never competed as a lightweight before, and also didn’t see any familiar faces. All the other girls seemed to know each other, be more mature, independent, and more experienced at sculling as a lightweight. They showed up at camp in their own cars, with their boat and oars strapped to the top—I felt out of place and was starting to question whether I even had a chance of making the boat. After a few days of testing and racing in various combinations, our coach collected all the data and announced the final line-up: I had made the boat and we ended up qualifying for the U23 World Championships in Amsterdam.

This experience has taught me to trust in my own abilities and not be intimidated by my opponents’ appearance. Sometimes, at Cornell, we will face crews who look stronger, faster or more prepared, and because this can often weaken your confidence going into a race, it’s important to keep in mind that the winner isn’t determined until you’ve raced down the course. Our team has managed to beat teams that were ranked above us, because we had learned how to ignore their reputation, past performances and the intimidating sound of their oarlocks as they rowed by us.

row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Solveig Imsdahl - The community. Having reliable, hard-working people around you, who are dedicated and passionate about rowing, and because they know what it means to share the pain and success of racing, is what makes rowing unique. Unlike other sports, you don’t have to have years of experience in order to excel, as long as you’re willing to be committed and not afraid of pushing yourself to—and beyond—your limits. It could be the experience of rowing across the lake in a single as the sun rises, or destroying your personal record, or even just that magical moment in the middle of a team practice, when you notice that the entire boat is rowing in precise unison together, creating an unforgettable boat-run. It’s so exhilarating that you feel like you could row all day long. All of these factors combined is what has gotten me addicted to rowing.

row2k - What are your strengths as both a student and an athlete?
Solveig Imsdahl - There are the obvious strengths that are associated with any athlete/student life. You need to be an excellent time manager, if you want to put in two workouts a day and remain on top of your classes. You also need a positive attitude if you want to see the merit in rising early just to go sweat, or want to see the long-term advantage of heading toward an afternoon practice when, as a busy student, you might otherwise want to just take a nap.

Less obvious strengths include being able to remain mentally relaxed and in control when I may be pushing myself physically beyond my limits, learning from disappointing results rather than letting them get in my way, knowing what my priorities are and having to make appropriate sacrifices, and making sure to listen to my body with respect to adequate recovery, timing/quality of food intake, and most importantly sleep.

row2k - Your sister is on your team, what's it like having a sibling as a teammate?
Solveig Imsdahl - My sister has always been my teammate in a sense that we’ve learned to compete with each other, support each other, keep an eye out for each other, work together, remind each other of our goals and be able to rely on each other—all the characteristics you would expect to see in a teammate.

row2k - What are you studying at Cornell and do you have any plans yet for after graduation?
Solveig Imsdahl - I'm currently studying music at Cornell and have also fulfilled all the premed requirements. After graduating in May I am planning on going to Medical School and training for the 2016 Olympics.

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