row2k continues it's preview of the 2014 Spring Collegiate racing season with an interview with Gonzaga senior women's coxswain Naseeb Bhangal, who accidentally started rowing her freshmen year and occasionally beatboxes while coxing.
row2k - How did you get your start in rowing at Gonzaga?
Naseeb Bhangal - For a very brief time during my freshman year, I was a member of the Gonzaga Women’s Cross Country team. After being recruited my senior year in high school, I continued to train hard and logged grueling miles on a dirt track in New Delhi, India, where I was visiting my grandparents. Despite the temperatures being above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I remember how I wasn’t able to go out on runs without at least a pair of pants and a t-shirt on. During my runs, the local residents and neighbors couldn’t keep themselves from staring—you hardly see any women running there, so I definitely managed to attract everyone’s attention. Most days, I found myself running against men and boys, who would visit the track and wager their friends to compete with me for a few laps. All of them would eventually stop. Needless to say, I left India with the stamina and speed I would need to be a great college runner. Yet, I didn’t know then how short my time with the team would be.
When I arrived on Gonzaga’s campus, I was really unfamiliar with the buildings and this ultimately led me into the wrong place that Thursday afternoon—or the right place, as I look back now. The Cross Country coaches had scheduled an hour long run for all the new recruits and walk-ons during the first week of school. We were all going to meet in the west lobby of McCarthey for carpools. I, however, found myself in the east lobby. This wrong turn in McCarthey exposed me to the Women’s Rowing team. I knew something was off when I couldn’t find the coaches and there was definitely something unusual about the 6 foot athletes that greeted me. I remember thinking how rare it is to see tall runners. And even though I was confused, I didn’t ask questions. After all, I didn’t want to seem “lost” on my first day.
But I was lost and eventually ended up following a huge herd of athletes into the Gonzaga erg room. And no, the ergs didn’t turn out to be for cross-training, and when I realized that I began to panic. I was late to my first practice and felt like a fool in a room full of athletes and coaches, who I had no business being around. During the entire meeting, I was focused on my exit plan, and when the meeting ended I was the first to leave. I headed straight to the athlete lab to find someone who could help me get a hold of the coaches.
Yet, right behind me was the novice coach, Courtney Haase. She sat me down and shared her personal experience with Gonzaga’s Rowing program. Haase had been the varsity coxswain at Gonzaga from 1999-2003 and was a part of the senior class that secured the seventh straight West Coast Conference Championship for Gonzaga Women’s Rowing. Her story made it evident that she and her teammates liked to be first, particularly at the finish line. She radiated confidence and authority; some perhaps gained during years of bossing around much bigger women, and some attributable to the legacy and standards of excellence she fostered during her time on the team. I remember thinking how amazing her experience must have been. After all, here she was committed to ensuring the same success and experiences for her athletes.
Long story short, I left Courtney with several questions and doubts in my head. I kept ruminating on her story—maybe this is the moment I will look back on in four years and remember as a turning point. Less than a week later, I was quitting a sport I knew I was good at for something I had never had heard of before. My friends and parents thought I was being crazy, even I couldn’t help but doubt my decision as I struggled to embrace my subjective role as a coxswain. Yet, the newness of the sport, the supportive coaching, the competitive culture, and my novice teammates kept me around for more. Now as I reflect on my three and a half years with the program, I am glad I walked into the wrong place at the right time that Thursday afternoon.
row2k - What was your athletic background prior to finding the sport?
Naseeb Bhangal - I was a three sport varsity athlete in high school, and kept myself busy with cross country, basketball, and tennis. My commitment to running was always a priority for me. I’ve always been a runner. Consequently, my leadership and coxing philosophies are rooted in the lessons of perseverance, competition, and drive that I have acquired from racing and running. Even now, as a coxswain, to stay competitive off the water I will run to the boathouse as often as I can (which is an 8 mile run from campus) or run with my rowers during their secondaries.
We all know that rowing is an early morning sport and it can be hard to be focused and alert at 6AM. Therefore, my novice year I began running to the boathouse as not only a way to maintain my pace but also to prepare myself mentally for practice. Now I use this time to listen to tapes and visualize pieces in my head and it has made all the difference for me.
My teammates always talk about how productive they feel when they get back on campus at 8AM after two hours of rowing on the water. So, the days that I can wake up at 4:45AM to run to the boat house for practice, I feel twice as productive and the rowers have served as my inspiration over these past few years.
row2k - Your coach says you're a DJ and can beatbox. How did you get in to that?
Naseeb Bhangal - I started beatboxing after developing a fascination for a cappella groups in middle school. I am a self-taught beatboxer and love applying this skill in the boat. I equate beatboxing to coxing, since both require an understanding of rhythm and juggling (in the multi-tasking sense). And while I don’t spend my entire time during practices beatboxing, it can be a useful skill when I am trying to lighten the mood in the boat.
I have always loved music, especially how it has the ability to echo and express thoughts and emotions we feel. I wasn’t interested in being a DJ until my novice year when I mashed up a few tunes for the rowers. They ended up giving me great reviews after an indoor practice and since then I have made myself in charge of all music needs during winter training and land workouts. My DJ name is NaSibble, which was also acquired during my novice year. When it comes to music, mixing tunes, finding songs, or compiling the perfect 2k playlist, I do my research with the rowers. Creating a playlist for a team means talking with the rowers, getting to know them and their interests, and finding a small way to push them. On a larger team, music is one of the ways I get to know my teammates better. Plus through Gonzaga’s program, we all are encouraged to take initiative in developing ourselves while simultaneously developing the team culture. For me music has been a simple way to contribute to the team culture.
row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Naseeb Bhangal - How I found the sport of rowing pretty much sums up what I love about the sport—my teammates, coaches, and alumni. I love how small the world of rowing can feel, yet how much there is left to learn and explore with my teammates. Last year, NCAA’s was an amazing experience for the team and would not have been possible without our alums supporting us and our coaches believing in us. The Gonzaga alumni, their stories, their victories, and their contribution to our program—both during their time as athletes and alums—paved the path to NCAAs. They have set the bar high for all of us and it is an honor to have the opportunity to carry on their legacies. Furthermore, there is a lot of coaching experience and depth on our coaching staff, which is comprised of Coach Putyrae, Coach Robles, and Coach Durgan. Specifically, their history of success, knowledge of Gonzaga and its community, and time with the program is invaluable.
Lastly, I love the types of individuals this sport attracts. My teammates are intentional contributors in our community and in the classroom, not just the water. My rowers work hard, embrace the “pain cave” (one of the many analogies Coach Putyrae uses), and inspire me to be my best every day. Time and time again, in the face of hurdles and small adversities, I have always been able to fall back on my team—my support system. My teammates are my sisters and I with them everything is possible.
row2k - What has been your most memorable race so far and why?
Naseeb Bhangal - The Varsity 8 head race at the Head of the Spokane against Washington State University has been my most memorable race. Coming off of a strong spring season with a finish at NCAAs, we all knew we had the power, speed, and confidence that we needed to win on our home water and we did exactly that. The win at the Head of the Spokane represents the first win in the history of the program over WSU on our home course. Last year was a turning point for the team, as the coaches and rowers rebuilt this program back to the winning legacy it once was. The Head of the Spokane is simply a testament to the work and goals of our team, since last year, and sets the tone for our goals this upcoming spring.
row2k - How has this season gone, and what are your goals for the spring?
Naseeb Bhangal - It is a very exciting time to be on the Gonzaga Women’s Rowing team. Our team has three goals for the spring: (1) Win the WCC Championship and place in the top 18 teams at NCAAs (2) Earn a GPA of 3.5 or higher each semester (3) 100% team participation in PRIDE events by the end of the year. With Crew Classics and Clemson Invitational on the schedule our biggest goal as a team is to get an automatic qualifier to NCAAs, regardless of our performance at WCCs. All the while, the focus has and continues to be on being our best selves on the water, in the classroom, and in our community.
Coach Putyrae has worked hard to ensure that our spring racing schedule prepares us to peak at the end the season and I know he has built a schedule that will expose us to the crews and the speeds we will see again at NCAAs. We are all excited to have some big races on the schedule and the rowers know the speeds, training splits, and strength they will need to have at the end of the season.
Along with me, I know that the returning rowers from last season feel far more prepared this season after winning the West Coast Conference title back and competing at NCAAs. Last year, when we qualified for NCAAs, we made history for the program and had the opportunity to be exposed to a very different caliber of rowing. This year, we want to take that experience and step up our performance collectively. Unlike, last year we know what we can expect from the crews there and we know what it’s going to take to meet our goals. We are excited to show the endurance and strength we have developed in the fall this spring.
row2k - What are some of your other interests away from the boathouse?
Naseeb Bhangal - Currently, I serve as a staff leader to Gonzaga Athletes Mentoring for Excellence (GAME), a mentoring program run out of the Center for Community Action and Service Learning. I am proud to be an athlete who is not only committed to success of her team but also in her community. This is my fourth year with the program because I strongly believe in the impact mentoring can create in the Spokane community which continues to see increasing high school dropout rates. This mentoring program was established by athletes who wanted to expose the youth in our community to student leaders on college campuses. Many of the mentees who participate in this program are raised by single parents/guardians (predominantly women); therefore, our mentors and I work extremely hard to ensure these students are provided with the necessary resources and networking opportunities to pave their path towards higher education. In addition, I serve as a volunteer at a local high school English class for my CLP senior legacy project. The Comprehensive Leadership Program requires all seniors to complete a legacy project that enhances the Spokane community long after they have graduated. After taking Leadership and Storytelling with Joe Albert, I was inspired to help high school youth share their stories of pain and courage as a way of helping them identify their strengths and goals in life. A degree in higher education would allow me to better serve college communities and most importantly the young women and men seeking an education as an opportunity to accomplish great feats for themselves and their families.
row2k - What are you studying at Gonzaga and do you have any plans yet for after college?
Naseeb Bhangal - I am a psychology and political science double major and I plan on attending graduate school next year for a Masters in Student Development. I have currently heard back from Ohio University, Vermont University, and Loyola Chicago and will be making my decisions in the upcoming months. My team and coaches have been supportive of me in this process, since juggling senior year and graduate school applications can be pretty overwhelming. I want to eventually work in a higher education setting in an administrative position. I have had amazing mentors, in athletics and academics, help me develop as a well-rounded student-athlete and would like to serve as catalyst for future generations of college students.