Rowing was never in my plan when I started at Ohio State. I chose Ohio State for a number of reasons—it was a big school full of academic, athletic, and social activities, not too close to home, and (with academic scholarships) allowed me to save money for graduate school. I remember arriving at school, eager to start classes (I was going to take my first statistics class that required calculus as a prereq!). During the activities fair, when all the organizations try to recruit freshmen, I decided to rappel down the side of the football stadium. Soon after I was approached by a young male coach named Andy who said I should consider rowing; that they were looking for people who were athletic and willing to try new things. The rest is history; I got sucked into the sport all of us have grown to love.
What was so incredible about rowing was that, despite the immense amount of time and energy (physically and emotionally) dedicated to the sport, it did not hinder my ability to succeed academically. Instead, I believe it allowed me to do more. Rowing provided structure to my time, forced me to organize, taught me to be disciplined, allowed me to push my own boundaries of what I thought I was capable of doing and encouraged me to be a student first.
Rowing also taught me that leadership did not have to mean being a vocal cheerleader. Being a leader in this sport is an odd concept when the goal is for eight rowers to meld into a single unit. But the leadership rowing teaches is one based on hard work and mutual respect. Unlike other sports where one player can take over a game and win it by herself, no one in rowing is doing anything without the support of her teammates. Leadership in rowing is far more a pyramid than a pedestal. Learning how to lead in this environment was a skill I have taken with me through the years—quietly making my mark, supporting those around me, and working to bring others up.
Rowing taught me to recover from defeat and persist through the struggle, which helped me through medical school. Rowing also forced me to learn discipline and organization, which allowed me to prioritize and focus on the most important tasks through the 80-hour work weeks of residency. But today, as my career has shifted from mentee to mentor, I remember how rowing taught me that being a leader does not mean being the most visible or the loudest, rather it is being an example for others to follow, establishing an environment to make it easy for others to succeed, and supporting teammates (or classmates or colleagues) through their struggles because their achievements are something to take pride in, not something to compete with. These are the skills that rowing helped me develop, and I hope they allow me to be a better researcher, a better teacher, and a better physician.
Suzanne Arnold Gehrke