Former University at Buffalo rower Cornelia Willis will be joining three other members as they race for Team USA at the U-23 World Championships in Trakai, Lithuania next week. Willis and her teammates are responsible for all of the expenses associated with the trip and are currently seeking donations to help offset the cost of the trip. We asked Cornelia to talk about her experience and what this means to her.
Last week I qualified to represent the United States at the U23 World Rowing Championships in the lightweight women's quad. Four years ago I didn't know what rowing was and 1 month ago I had never really sculled. When I was put in a tippy little boat by myself after arriving at GMS Rowing Center, a US Rowing training camp in New Milford Connecticut, I felt completely at home. Never mind that I did not want to leave the dock for fear of "going for a swim," I loved being able to focus only on rowing and learning to scull.
I had just returned to Buffalo after placing third at the lightweight National Championship when I hopped in my car to join 6 other lightweight women who were selected for this camp. One of those girls, a graduate of Northeastern, was also from Buffalo and would soon become the three seat in the boat that raced to qualify for the U23 World Rowing Championship.
Sarah Giancola and I were joined by Samantha Brecht from Philadelphia and Carolina Paini from Southern California – we are a truly novice crew as Sarah, Carolina, and I learned to scull at the camp.
At the US U23 World Rowing Championship Trials we came from behind in the last minute of the race to qualify to represent the US at the U23 World Rowing Championships in Lithuania from July 11th-15th. We are so thrilled to represent the US this year and will wear our USA uniforms with pride.
All expenses are athlete funded so we are seeking donations to help cover the cost of flights, lodging, equipment, and coaches and all donations are tax deductible through http://natrowing.donorpages.com/Under23NationalTeam/USAU23LW4x/.
Cornelia went on to speak about how important rowing became in her life and what the Buffalo Rowing program has done for her.
I never believed I could fall in love with a sport. But after coming to the University at Buffalo and walking onto the women's lightweight rowing team, I was hooked. The early morning practices, tough erg workouts, and travel competition helped me to keep a dedicated study schedule and excel in school and athletics.
The image of my future self developed quickly. Goals of travelling abroad, becoming a doctor, and having a family grew to include breaking 7:30 on a 2k test, competing in international regattas, and standing on the Olympic podium.
After this summer I am well on my way to accomplishing all of these goals.
"Row to the bridge and back" is a phrase I hear frequently as a rower. In college that would be the day's practice, about 10 km or about an hour with our coxswain directing our focus and technique. I loved those early morning rows, the intensity of each rower matching up to send the boat through wisps of fog as the sun rose. The exciting last days of my senior year were overshadowed by the dwindling time I had left on the water. Soon I would have to pack up and make my way in the world, earn a living and hope to find time to hop on an erg between work and bed.
The sport that I joined by happenstance my freshman year of college had quickly become a part of me. The early morning practices, tough erg workouts, and travel competitions became my impetus for succeeding in the classroom. When my father lost his job and was diagnosed with cancer in February of 2010 I turned my fear and worries into power on the erg and became one of the fastest lightweight rowers at UB. One day I hopped on the erg and broke a world record for the fastest 100 km row.
During those practices I was unaware that rowing after college was possible for me. I had only started hearing about programs for people who wanted to compete after college but had not really thought about how I could fit practices into my goal of becoming a doctor.
When I had 9 practices left at UB, my coaches told me that I was being recruited to row at a lightweight camp hosted by the US Rowing Association! After college there is no sweep rowing. All rowing for lightweights is done using two oars, one in each hand, something I had never done. So in one week I raced at the lightweight national championship, postponed my job, and packed up to train in Connecticut bringing with me a dream of representing the USA at the U23 World Championships.
At GMS Rowing Center in New Milford, Connecticut, the bridge row was 22 km, an hour and 40 minute row, and our first of three practices every day.