Black rowing coach never had one

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Photo courtesy of U of M Victoria West coaching U of M rowers

She teaches others the sport she loves

Rowing has been around since the beginning of the 17th century. Faster than simple paddling, it is one of the oldest Olympic sports, starting in 1896. It is open to women and men, from amateur to university level to the elite, whether in individual competition or in a team of eight.

University of Minnesota Assistant Rowing Coach Victoria West recently offered a quick tutorial on rowing: A good rower “is someone who is willing to work hard … willing to do their best and to accept to fail sometimes, ”she began.

“Think of the boat as a semi-truck in water,” says West, Gopher’s assistant coach since 2019. The rowers sit facing the stern of the boat and use the oars to propel it forward. There is the “archer” or “the bow” – that person is the number one rower. The “strokeeman” or “stroke” helps set the speed and pace for the rest of the rowers. The “coxswain” faces the bow, directs and coordinates the power and rhythm of the rowers. This person can sometimes be seen holding a megaphone while calling commands to the rest of the team.

Intermediate rowers “are very strong athletes in terms of power,” West noted. Each rower must work together. It’s the ultimate team sport, ”West said proudly.

Like most non-traditional sports, rowing at most levels lacks diversity, with a few exceptions over the years. Anita L. DeFrantz was the only black member of America’s first women’s Olympic team to win a bronze medal in 1976. A PBS documentary released earlier this year about the first all-black high school rowing club team at Chicago in the late 1990s.

Photo courtesy of U of M Victoria West

Asiya Mahmud, the assistant women’s rowing coach at Drexel, started rowing in high school and also at Drexel, the only black woman on the team. Friends from her high school in Ann Arbor, Mich., Essentially challenged her to try for the rowing team, not giving her much of a chance to succeed, West said.

“I just got involved and loved it,” she recalls. “I love being in the water and how it really clears your mind.”

“Not a lot,” West said when asked how many other black rowers she had seen. “Rowing is a predominantly white sport. I never lost sight and my parents never left it [me] losing sight of the fact that I was one of the very few black people on my high school team. There were only three of us.

“Then in college – I spent most of my college career at Grand Valley State – I was the only one. I never had a black coach. I remember seeing someone from Chicago [at a regatta], and she was another black rower.

After college, West said she worked as a sales manager in the hospitality industry. With a degree in hospitality and tourism from Grand Valley State and a minor in business, she eventually wanted to become a rowing coach.

“My husband went back to training when he was in graduate school, and I got really jealous,” West admitted. “So I went back for a year [and coached] in Grand Valley with a full time job.

It has become a distraction, she says. “I was spending too much time at my day job focusing on the practice. At that point my boss spoke to me and [said] if you want to change careers, it must be done now.

“I have never been happier,” she said of the decision. “It doesn’t sound like a job.” His main responsibilities with the Gophers are with novice rowers, “people who have never touched a boat. [before]», She underlined. “I teach them this sport.”

West said she wanted more black people to get into rowing. “That’s a big reason I coach, because I want other black female athletes to see me as a coach.”





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