Female coxswain help keep men’s crew afloat

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Pickei

Photo Courtesy of Ashley Pickei

by Kristi Vettese

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The San Diego State men’s crew team was founded in 1925 and is the oldest sport on campus. The crew team has experienced a lengthy history of success and remarkable achievements, but not without the leadership of a select group of women.

For those not familiar with the sport of rowing, each successful crew team desperately needs strong coxswains at the head of the team in order to compete at a high level of competition. Coxswain is the term used to describe the leaders in a crew team who aid in controlling the team’s rowing time, speed and fluidity.

The SDSU men’s crew team is unique because at the helm of the men’s variety and novice teams are female coxswains taking charge in leading the teams to success.

According to varsity president and team captain Scott Gerdes, coxswains are typically female because of their small stature and frame.

[quote]“The most important physical attributes of a coxswain are a small frame to be able to fit into the coxswain seat and a lighter weight, below 125, because a lighter boat will sit on top of the water instead of in the water,” Gerdes said. “The natural physical differences between males and females lead to the majority of possible coxswains being female.”[/quote]

Journalism junior Ashley Pickei is a member of the novice men’s crew team along with five other female coxswains. She said her role is of great importance to the overall success of the team.

“Our role as coxswains is to act as a mini-coach and instruct the guys on drills,” Pickei said. “When we are on water competing the coxswain’s job is to steer the boat, practice techniques, motivate the guys and, most importantly, ensure their safety.”

Liberal arts senior and coxswain on the men’s varsity team, Selysa Marshall, also said being a coxswain is extremely important and she feels that being female on a team of men doesn’t take away from the respect she gets from her teammates.

[quote]“We build a relationship of trust among us on the team and with that trust comes mutual respect. When I do a good job, the members of the team trust me more, therefore respect me more,” Marshall said. “When I make mistakes they give me feedback once we are off the water, but once our hands are on a boat my word is the law.”[/quote]

Being a coxswain is intense work and a lot of trust and leadership is vested in the women in this position. However, each team and the gender difference between the male and female leaders doesn’t bother the men one bit.

“It’s not easy to be the only girl around 40-plus guys, and they handle themselves really well,” mechanical engineering freshman Azael Castro said. “At the end of the day the girls are still our teammates and part of the brotherhood, and we all respect each other and gender is not an exception.”

Philosophy senior and member of the novice team Cole VanMiddlesworth, says the team is one unit and that he doesn’t pay attention to the gender differences among them.

[quote]“We are led neither by women nor by men; we’re led by leaders,” VanMiddlesworth said. “Our team is made up of a diverse group of people from many cultural backgrounds, countries, sexual orientations and religions. Only one thing matters if you want to be a part of our team: Can you win races?”[/quote]

With this kind of winning attitude among the crew teams on campus, it’s no wonder the team has experienced a lengthy history of success and remarkable achievements.

The SDSU men’s crew team has produced national rowing athletes, with 13 SDSU alumni having competed on the U.S. National Team in various Olympic games. This year’s team is no exception to the long-standing tradition in excellence and is looking to have yet another successful season to add to the record books.

The men’s varsity crew team has one more event to compete in this month and will continue competition as soon as the spring semester commences in 2014.


Photo Courtesy of Ashley Pickei

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