Hmmm … What a Thought
In just a year-and-a-half, Buckeye rower Emily Walsh has started to carve a niche for herself

by Danielle Warner
Ohio State Athletics Communications

The result continued to surprise. Again and again each personal erg score kept bettering the previous one. Talent, coupled with hard work, was the most logical explanation and the next rational step was for Emily Walsh to maintain that momentum. In other words, hanging out in the summer sun was not an option, unless “hanging out” on the river sculling and training underneath the summer sun counts.

Having just completed her sophomore season on the Ohio State rowing team, Walsh began her career modestly as a freshman novice rower. Not uncommon among collegiate rowing programs, many teams across the nation rely on freshmen walk-ons as solid foundations for their team. In fact, one perusal of the letterwinners section of the rowing media guide will find it is a rare feat for any student-athlete to end their career as a four-time letterwinner. After completing their inaugural season, novice rowers who can make the cut, are promoted to varsity status and that is where Walsh’s story begins.

“I’ve only been rowing for a little over a year-and-a-half,” Walsh, who hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., said. I never rowed in high school.”

Instead, Walsh played rugby. Yes rugby and she didn’t play just to pass the time either. A two-time team captain of the Fox Chapel Area High School rugby team in 2007 and 2008, she led the squad to an undefeated record in sectional play.

However, those closest to Walsh did try to convince her to take up rowing during her years at Fox Chapel. A few of her friends rowed, as well as her sister, so Walsh finally decided to give it a try after constantly be told her 5’10” frame was a natural fit for the sport. 

During Walsh’s freshman orientation in June 2008, she was approached by then-novice coach Bethia Woolf and was asked if she had any athletic experience. Revealing she played rugby, Walsh noted her interest in the novice program and kept in contact with Woolf throughout the summer until the preseason began later that fall.

“I was at this big, new school and I figured I would try something different,” Walsh said. “My parents were a little tired of me playing rugby anyway since it is more of a contact sport.”

In the spring of 2009, on one of the biggest stages of her young career, Walsh and her First Novice Eight mates advanced to the Grand Final of the Big Ten championships; a huge feat, which guaranteed the so-called inexperienced crew a Top 4 finish. As a bonus, Walsh completed the performance of a lifetime in front of family and friends at Griggs Reservoir on the Scioto River as the Buckeyes served as hosts of the annual championship. Finishing third among the best of their peer group was a huge boost to Walsh and the 1N8’s confidence and spurred her likely return to the team the following season, but this time as a varsity rower.

“I will definitely remember the Big Ten championships for the rest of my life,” Walsh said. “At that stage (being a novice rower), I was just in awe of the varsity team. I was competing in the Big Ten Conference and that was a huge deal to me. Having that medal around my neck will stick with me.”

The combination of medaling at the league championships and the impact it had on the Buckeyes’ Top 3 finish as a team not only led to Walsh’s return the following season, but has motivated her to claim that all-important Big Ten championship ring.

A shift to 2010, Walsh earned consistent starting bids in the First Varsity Eight, switching between the three and five seats. With the arrival of the postseason, Walsh was among the starting eight in the Second Varsity Eight.

It was during the grueling preseason, that consists of a lot of quality time with erg machines, Walsh and Buckeye head coach Andy Teitelbaum were pleasantly surprised how quickly she was recording more competitive erg scores. 

“Coach (Teitelbaum) was pretty intent on me staying with rowing this summer,” Walsh said. We looked at various development camps, but most importantly we were looking for camps that would last almost all summer. Coach wanted me to apply to the U.S. Under-23 National Team Camp. It was a complete shot in the dark. I didn’t get in, but I applied for the U.S. Under-23 National Team Pre-Elite Camp.”

After applying to this prestigious development camp hosted by the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, Pa., Walsh received positive news the second time around.

“One of the things this program stresses is that it is an elite camp,” Walsh said. “I think my biggest challenge right now is my lack of experience.”

Hence Walsh’s determination to attend one of the best camps in the nation. If experience is one of the important facets of making the U-23 team, Walsh is illustrating she is not afraid to build her resume.

However, when prompted if that is the goal; to make the U.S. Under-23 National Team, Walsh, who remember is still fairly new to this sport, is taking one step at a time. Recognizing only the best will make the squad, Walsh is focused on this opportunity to hone her skills and continue to develop as a rower.

“It is easy to get caught up in everything,” Walsh said. “Especially since I have made it this far, but I’m just building. It is a possible long-term goal.”

With the development camp starting June 6, Walsh was forced to miss the first few days because she still had to finish up the spring quarter, including finals. Walsh had some concern she would immediately be at a disadvantage and attacked the appeared drawback with a plan.

“I knew I was coming in a little behind, so I was concerned I would go unnoticed by the coaches,” Walsh said. “I figured I needed a few days where I had to lay low, wait for the coaches to watch me row and wait for them to coach me. It happened eventually and the coaches noticed.”

So the reward for such ambition? Three-a-day practices starting at 5:45 a.m. Walsh usually wakes up with the sun, if not before, and leaves for the river at 6 a.m. and the first session of the morning promptly gets underway at 6:30 a.m. The second morning session encompasses more intense rowing pieces, such as speed work. The team breaks for four hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., but get right back into the grind of rowing, erg machines and weight lifting until 6 p.m. Oh and as a bonus? Walsh’s apartment is about three miles from the rowing site which means 14 miles a day of biking.

But Walsh loves it.

“This is just an amazing experience in itself,” Walsh said. “We have already met a number of Olympians and world championship athletes who train here as well and that just contributes to the competitive atmosphere and the desire to improve. Being around those types of people and having coaches from similar backgrounds definitely makes you want to see how far you can go.”

Walsh notes despite the assumption camps of this caliber bring forth an “Every man for himself” approach, that could not be more opposite at the U.S. Under-23 National Team Pre-Elite Camp. Yes, it’s competitive, as it should be, but Walsh describes it as a “weird balance.”

“Two days in, our coach (Josh Adam) used the term family,” Walsh said. “We’re a team, we compete as a team. I’ve race against many of the girls who are here, so in one aspect I need to do this for me and see how far I can go and in another I have to make my team look good. I just appreciate the caliber of athletes who are here and how everyone wants to work as a team.”

The camp will culminate with the USRowing Club National Championships in Oak Ridge, Tenn., July 14-18.

When it is all said and done, Walsh naturally hopes to leave a better rower and athlete. But when she returns to campus in the fall and sees familiar collegiate teammates and of course friends, she hopes she will be able to lead by example and be an encourager to her teammates.

“Training here has really made me appreciate my school and my team and how well we work together as a unit,” Walsh said. “I’m lucky to be a part of something like that. And for now, I think my experience this summer will mean a lot more to me if I know it has helped my team too.”