Wichita County Indians

Wichita County Indians

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Rowing her boat: Graff adjusts to collegiate competition

Published 4/22/2010

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

"Row, row, row your boat - gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."

There are few places to row a boat in western Kansas. One has to be creative to find a location that would provide the necessary environment to row. Yes, there is some canoeing in some locations of the Arkansas River. There is even some boating at Scott County Lake. But, other than that, you won't find any oars in the water for rowing. Especially if it's for competitive rowing.

So, how does a graduating high school senior in western Kansas suddenly find herself on an NCAA Division I rowing team?

Trinity Graff, a freshman at the University of Kansas and a Wichita County High School graduate, provides an inside view.

"My junior year of high school, I was taking piano lessons and my teacher said she had a family member who was rowing back east somewhere and that I would be the perfect size for a place on the team and that I should take a look at places around here that had programs."

Taking advantage of the Internet, she then checked out websites at KU and Newman University in Wichita. On the KU site, there was a place to print out a form for possible recruits to and fill out.

"So that's what I did," said Graff, who has served her freshman season as the coxswain of the Novice 8 (8 rowers) for the Jayhawks. "I got my name on the list and they called me to do a phone interview. I then got invited to Lawrence in January of my senior year and took an official visit."

One thing led to another and Graff was offered a partial scholarship, which covers book fees and a percent of her tuition. "There are 12 recruits this year and there's a ton of girls on the team," Graff said. "We've got a big group of freshmen and we've only got eight seniors."

The coxswain is the one in the boat who provides instruction to each of the eight rowers or four rowers depending on which event is being held. In essence, the person is like the coach. At KU, and most collegiate programs, there is the Varsity 8, a second Varsity 8, the first Novice 8 and second Novice 8 (comprised of freshmen). Then there are singles, doubles and quads.

"I'm usually practicing with the Novice 8 and on occasion the Varsity 4," Graff said. "I did get to do a varsity meet (Varsity 4 at Austin, Texas) and it was nerve wracking because all the rowers were upperclassmen. But they were very supportive and helpful to me."

Graff said the coxswain is equipped with a headset that allows her to communicate with each of the rowers. Sitting low in the boat, facing the rowers (the bow end) and the finish line, the coxswain is the only person that can see where the boat is going.

"You're kind of like a driver's education teacher," she said. "You're in charge of keeping the boat on line. I guess it would be a little like driving and text messaging at the same time. It's a bit hectic."

Each rower has their own seat which adjusts up and down based upon the motion of the rower.

"I was shocked when I saw how complex the entire boat was," Graff said. "The steering is the hardest part because you've got eight oars in the water and they all have to be in sync with each other. I have to make sure nobody is getting their oars in too early or too late with the others. It's a lot of responsibility."

Graff said the experience has been more than she could have ever envisioned after growing up in Marienthal, which is nearby Wichita County High School in Leoti where she was a cheerleader and cross country runner.

"I've met so many new people and made a bunch of new friends," she said. "The team is like a big family, so we sometimes just hang out at the boat house (rowing headquarters on the Kansas River)."

This spring, the Jayhawks rowing beat in-state rival Kansas State for the first time in five years in the annual Kansas Cup competition at Lake Wyandotte, the home location for KU rowing meets.

"It's just like any of the other sports, beating K-State is always a big deal especially when we hadn't won the Cup for a long time," Graff said.

Graff said leadership skills are critical for her and the team's success when she's on the water with the rowers.

"I think my high school cheerleading and running cross country helped a lot," Graff said. "The girls do the power work and I guess I do the brain work."

Still, Graff goes through the workout regimen with her teammates just as if she were a rower.

"It's running, weightlifting and working on skills together," she said. "When I think back to the idea that I didn't even know KU had a rowing team and to be part of it now, it's really amazing. It's a completely new experience and one I could not have imagined."

At 5-foot-2 and 110 pounds, it is important for Graff to remain in that weight range.

"They don't want you as a coxswain if you get bigger than 115, so I've got to work to maintain my weight," she said.

Graff has learned and entirely new set of terms in the rowing program so that she can properly communicate with her teammates. Terms such as blade work, backing it in, come to mind for her.

"I can't see the bodies in the boat other than the first rower in front of me," Graff said. "So I look at the oars to see how each blade (oar) is working and then have to instruct them if anyone is off from the others."

Graff said the goal is to have about 30-31 strokes per minute so the coordination of those with eight different rowers is quite complicated.

"It's my job to see who's pulling their weight and sometimes we just have to switch people out and move them around to make things work best," Graff said. "I have to see who's going too quick or not getting a full swing with their oar."

A pre-med major at KU, Graff says she is looking forward to the rest of the spring season which is comprised of five races, the next being in Minnesota.

"The traveling is pretty neat and you get to spend more time with your teammates and coaches, and it's just a lot of fun," Graff said. "The upperclassmen will tell me what motivates them when they're competing and they are proud of how quickly I've picked up the sport. Each one has her different way of how you row, so that's one of the areas I always have to pay attention to."

Graff said she took a 15-hour class load in her first semester but reduced it to 12 during the primary rowing season and will take another 12 next fall, but will be occupied with classes in her pre-med program. "I've always loved children so right now pediatrics seems to have the most interest for me," she said. "Something in the health care area will be interesting for me. I want to keep my options open but whatever I decide to do, I want it to be interesting and challenging."

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