Michigan State crew club finds renewed popularity
Crew, also known as rowing, is the oldest intercollegiate sport in America. For many Michigan State students, it is a new and fun discovery.
EAST LANSING – About 3 miles west of where the Grand River and the Red Cedar River meet, there is a Michigan State club sport that is taking over the waters six days out of the week. The coed crew club is starting another season competing in events across the country and its on pace to be one of their largest seasons yet.
Crew, commonly referred to as rowing, is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States, dating back to 1852. The sport is composed of teams that have a varied number of rowers in a boat that are racing against each other on bodies of water. Usually, a team will either have four or eight people in a boat, but there are some events where there may just be one person and others where there would just be two rowers.
The club has seen an almost unbelievable amount of growth according to Pahul Kahlon, president of the crew club. Going from last year into this year, club members believe the large jump in numbers is due to a multitude of reasons.
“We have 20 to 25 people returning from last year and we have 25-30 novices coming in, of which there will most likely be 15 that stay,” Kahlon said.
Club member Arun Kammanadiminti has been on the team for three years now and the club growth isn’t really surprising given the circumstances of the past few years.
“I think this being the first year back with no restrictions is helping grow our club. People want to get back out and do stuff outside again,” Kammanadiminti said. “I think probably the biggest factor is the fact that freshman and sophomores are now stuck on campus and they are just looking for something to get them out of their dorms.”
Club member Ceci Cary gives a lot of credit to the recruiting team for the influx of new members.
“Our recruitment team has been really good this year. Our team has been working really hard these past few weeks and it has really paid off,” Cary said. “Last year, we just did a table at Sparticipation. This year we have really stepped it up as we have done Sparticipation, we did a table at James Madison (College), and we have this table outside Wells Hall for the whole week.”
As the club grew, there were some coaching challenges that needed to be addressed before the new season began.
“Last year it was myself and one part time coach,” head coach Pete Rosberg said. “This year we now have two full time coaches and one part time coach which makes training somewhat easier.”
Rosberg was brought in to be head coach last season to lead them back from a season that had no meets due to COVID-19 pandemic. Even though there were no meets during the COVID lockdown, team members still tried to stay in rowing shape from home.
“During COVID, I actually ended up borrowing a rowing machine from our facility.” Kammanadiminti said. “Throughout the pandemic, I just worked on distance length on the machine. It did get repetitive looking at a screen on a machine, and I was just looking forward to a time when we could get back on the water.”
There were some members of the club that stayed in the East Lansing area and stayed in shape from the team facilities.
“We worked out over Zoom and some of us at the boathouse.” club member Will Hammerslag said. “I was one of like six people that worked out at the boathouse with our equipment there. We were all socially distanced, but those were some tough days. I believe at that point we were at our lowest membership point ever. Coming back though the year after we did see a spike in people joining the club and I was really glad that the club bounced back.”
One of the main reasons people are joining the club is because of the physical fitness aspect of the sport and the workouts that you need to do to stay in shape.
“I never rowed before college but was intrigued by the club because it looked like a good way to work out,” Kammanadiminti said. “It’s an amazing workout and definitely keeps me in shape.”
The workout aspect is a huge key to getting people into the sport, including Rosberg. He said his first introduction to the sport was in high school to stay in shape for football but fell in love with the sport and never gave it up, which led him into what is now a 20 plus year coaching career.
With the novices coming in, Kahlon projects that 90% of them have not rowed before joining the club. But even though it seems like it would be a huge drop-off in skill level, it doesn’t seem that way according to members who rowed in high school.
“Honestly, you can’t really tell the difference,” club member Suhasini Ayer said. “Once you get a hang of what’s going on, you will fit in with the people that did it in high school.”
One of the biggest things the club uses to keep the novices in the club is just the experience they get on the water.
“I think the biggest thing for me is getting people in the water,” Hammerslag said. “I know for me, once I got into the water, I was hooked. And I know it's been that way for many others in our group. I also think the competitive aspect will also keep people in because although it’s a fun time, we are also still competing with other schools.”
The crew club continues practicing six days a week preparing for their only home meet of the year, the Head of the Grand, October 15 in East Lansing.