National Girls and Women in Sports Day 2023
In recognition of National Girls and Women in Sports Day on February 1, 2023, we asked three of our ambassadors, Zola, Mallory, and Nancy, about their experiences in sports.
1. Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background in rowing (and sports in general).
Zola: My name is Zola, I’m a 16 year-old rower from Portland, Oregon. I learned to row two years ago at a summer camp. At that time, my main focus was soccer, and I thought rowing would be good cross-training. What I didn’t know was that I would end up quitting soccer that year, and pursuing my passion for rowing. My soccer coach always encouraged me to try and find my competitive edge, and rowing is what brought it out. I love the adrenaline of racing, but also the simple act of taking a stroke. Because of my dedication to the sport, I won 3rd place at nationals in the U17 W4x with less than a year of experience, and the next year, I won 1st place in the same event by 7 seconds!
Outside of rowing, I am a junior at Northwest Academy High School. I love singing, drawing, writing, and reading. Another one of my hobbies is solving jigsaw puzzles.
Mallory: My name is Mallory. I’m a junior who rows for Charlotte Youth Rowing in Charlotte, NC! I started rowing fairly early, actually starting on the erg in winter 2017 as a 6th grader! I had been jumping from sport to sport for a while before I ended up falling in love with rowing and the community of strong women it surrounded me with. It’s allowed me to build a sense of confidence that I have always struggled with and gave me a safe place to be myself.
Nancy: I grew up in Vermont playing all sports in grade school, high school, and college. Basketball, skiing, field hockey, volleyball and softball were my favorite team sports. I skied in college, became a ski patroller post-college, and I have been a ski instructor for the last 25 years. I also have a background in running – competing in 4 Ironman triathlons, various ½ Ironmans, running 36 marathons, and two 50-milers. In 2020, I found the sport of indoor rowing, and more recently have rowed on the water. I am a 12-year lymphoma cancer survivor and I am passionate about sharing my journey to inspire others in their quest for health, fitness, and self-confidence. As a sports performance coach and instructor, I have helped countless individuals reach their ultimate performance goals.
My first book “Skiing is Believing” was published in 2022 and is an inspirational tale of coaching children in sport to boost self-confidence. Speaking to large audiences to inspire and coach is truly a passion of mine.
2. How does it make you feel to be an athlete?
Zola: I love being an athlete, and I feel proud to be an athlete. All my life I’ve admired athletes because of their motivation and persistence. I feel honored to identify as an athlete, and it makes me appreciate what my body can do.
Mallory: Gratitude. I’m always so thankful for the opportunity to be an athlete because it’s allowed me to grow into who I am today. I love being surrounded, not just on my team but in general by the rowing community, by people who are supportive and really want the best for you. I took part in a month-long rowing camp this past summer, and felt like I connected almost immediately with the other women. Being an athlete grants you an incredible opportunity to connect with so many people from different places.
Nancy: Being a strong athlete really has helped me forge a path for personal achievement with confidence-boosting results. Sharing strength with other females, both youth and masters, is inspiring and motivating for them to have the confidence to dream and focus their efforts to be strong and powerful females in sport. Giving back to the sports I have participated in gives me the opportunity to affect the future of women athletes of all ages.
3. What is a moment in your rowing career that you have felt the most proud, or is there an accomplishment you’d like to share?
Zola: My greatest win wasn’t actually a win. Technically, I came in 3rd place. It was my final race at 2021 Youth Nationals in the U17 W4x. We hadn’t guessed in a million years that we would make the A-final. We were hoping to maybe squeeze our way into the top ten at best. But there we were, sitting in lane number one, in the A-final. I remember the starting beep going off and my body moving instinctually. I couldn’t feel a thing for the first 500m because I was so nervous. I kept my eyes glued on my stroke’s back and I thought of nothing but catching with her, driving with her, and finishing with her. I didn’t know that we’d started in last place. I didn’t know that the first and second place boats were already a length ahead of us. I just rowed.
The end of the race was approaching, and I gambled a glance at the playing field. Out of the six boats in the race, I could see two ahead of me, meaning that we were in fourth place. And out of the corner of my eye, I could see the third place boat right next to us in lane two. Our bow was at their stern. We pulled harder. Our bow was at their stroke. We pulled harder! My bow seat let out an ear splitting shriek that I still remember today, one that pierced the rhythm of oar catching water, “power!” At this moment, I knew we could pass them. With 500m left in the race, we rowed harder and faster than we’d ever rowed in our lives. I was in so much pain it felt like my legs were being electrocuted with every stroke. Watching the water increase between our stern and their bow was the most glorious feeling I’ve ever experienced. We rowed the last few strokes with smiles on our faces.
Mallory: One of the most memorable moments, and I think it was also one of the most stressful moments, of my rowing career was at Southeast Regionals in 2022. I was racing in a women’s U19 4x after having raced the U17 1x in the morning, but I was so excited to get to row with the group of girls that I had been getting to practice with for the past month. As we had gotten up to the starting line, we were sitting at the block when the steering had come completely loose and had fallen on my feet. The officials had just called that we had 2 minutes to the start of our semifinals. I told the other women in my boat what had happened as I was trying to fix it as quickly as I could, but they took it with such stride and even as we still had issues during the race, I know we all put as much as we could out there and everyone gave it their all. The adversity we showed in that moment is something I’m so proud of, as we made the best that we could out of a less than ideal situation.
Nancy: In 2020, I started rowing indoors on the Concept2 erg and was encouraged by a friend to compete in the CRASH Bs 2000-meter sprint. When I placed 2nd in my age (55-59), I realized that I might have some potential to excel in this sport, so I dedicated my training to become the best I could be. In 2021 and 2022, I won my age group at CRASH Bs thanks to virtual coaching and programing from Live2Row Studios coach Justin Knust. 2021 was the year I set the American record for the marathon in the 50-59 age group in indoor rowing with a 2:59:52.0.
4. What challenges (if any) have you faced during your time as a female athlete? What would you like to see moving forward with girls and women in rowing, and sports in general?
Zola: The greatest challenge for me as a female athlete is the expectations set upon us. Female athletes are expected to look a certain way, act a certain way, and somehow have success within those restrictions. I’ve been taught that I should act dainty and pretty, I should only think kind thoughts and care what other people think of me.
I want to change this. I want women and girls to know that it’s okay to make noise in the gym. You’re lifting something heavy! That deserves a grunt! It’s okay to sweat buckets and look like a wet dog after practice. It’s okay to have bad days, not be perfect all the time. Having muscles doesn’t make us less feminine, having passion doesn’t make us lesser women.
Mallory: Ever since I started rowing, I have been continually told that “Rowing isn’t a sport” or that it “didn’t count” due to it being a sport typically dominated by women, especially at the high school level. This continually frustrated me, as rowing is something so important to me and so many other athletes.
I would love to see more support for girls and women in not only rowing, but all sports. Especially access for women who are less fortunate and may not be able to either afford gear or season costs, etc. I would love for sports to be more accessible to everyone because I know how valuable and life-changing they can be.
Nancy: As a masters female athlete, challenges include body changes with menopause, health issues including my cancer diagnosis in 2010, and structural challenges with joint and bones just feeling the years of wear and tear. Specifically, as a master female athlete, I think balancing career, family and home responsibilities, along with self-focused athletic goals is constant, and I continue to address this balancing act on a day-to-day basis.
I would love to see more strong successful female coaches coaching women in rowing and all sports in general. Being a great role model is so important and giving back to the sport as a female coach will truly help the trajectory of women in rowing and sport.
5. Why is it important for girls and women to have equal access to sports?
Zola: Sports have saved me in so many different ways. They’ve always been there for me to lean on through a tough bout of mental health issues, and they’ve helped shape who I am as a person. I learned how to find intrinsic motivation through soccer, I learned how to be tough through rowing. These are lessons that will benefit me outside of sports, in my career, in my relationships. They’re lessons many people don’t learn until later on in life, and I’m privileged to already be one step ahead.
Mallory: It is important for women and girls to have equitable access to sports because of how much it can benefit a person. Other than fitness benefits, it gives a strong community, support from girls and women with similar interests, and it gives a safe space for women to build confidence in themselves. This is so important, especially for young women in current times, to have a space to learn more about themselves and to meet other strong women.
Nancy: It’s important that girls and women have equal access to the sports they love to know they are recognized and supported by the greater sport community. Looking at the sport and the lesser number of women that compete needs to change so we continue to show others how being involved and active in a sport as versatile as rowing (on the erg and on the water) is the best sport for all around health and fitness. Equal opportunity so that you can excel at this sport at every level would truly be key to lifelong fitness for many all around the world.