CU-Boulder student life: Colorado Crew

Published: Dec. 14, 2012

At 5:45 a.m., the sun hasn’t made its climb over the horizon yet. In the dark, early-morning chill, the men’s and women’s rowing teams push off from shore at the Boulder Reservoir for practice.

It’s a scene that is repeated six mornings a week for members of Colorado Crew, a club sport at CU-Boulder. When the reservoir freezes, the teams train on rowing machines in the campus rec center, so there is no break in training. After the spring thaw, they head back outside to prepare for their spring racing season.

Madison Marshall, a sophomore in environmental engineering from Orange County, California, is captain of the women’s rowing team.

“Sometimes it’s hard getting out of bed so early,” said Marshall, who was new to rowing when she joined as a freshman. “When you get there it’s cold, but once you start rowing and you watch the sun coming up over the water and you start having fun, then you realize why you do it.”

Rowing, also called “crew,” made its debut at CU-Boulder in 1992 and has become one of the university’s largest club sports. In the past few years, the teams have earned top rankings at national regattas. 

Colorado Crew competes against some of the best collegiate programs in the nation, including the PAC 12.

The men’s and women’s teams finished the fall semester strong. The varsity men took gold in all events and tied a course record. The novice men beat a course record and took home medals. Varsity women took home a gold and the novice women took home a medal.

This year, the men’s team has 40 members and the women’s team has 19. There are nine people in a 60-foot-long boat—eight to row plus the coxswain, who doesn’t row, but calls out encouragement and direction. Rowers do not see where they are going, since they’re facing away from the direction they are rowing. As a result, they trust the coxswain to steer them along the course.

When performed well, rowing looks effortless as the boat skims over the water, oars lifting and dipping in unison. Rowing may look like a predominantly upper body sport, but the power of the rowing stroke comes from the legs. It is a total body workout. Rowers have been called the world’s most overall physically fit athletes.

Sam Tobey is captain of the men’s team and president of the Crew Club. He also coaches a crew team of local high school students. A junior majoring in mechanical engineering from Littleton, Colorado, Tobey had not rowed before joining the team as a freshman.

“Once you get into a steady rhythm, you can get going to high stroke rates—36 strokes per minute,” said Tobey. “On those days you can just fly over the water. Practicing that early in the morning—there are few things I’d rather be doing.”