Profile: Pioneer senior captain Lisa Brinkel helped keep PRC rowing in the right direction

Lisa Brinkel remembers heading down to the shoreline with her family to watch her older brother row for the Pioneer Rowing Club. With eyes wide open, Lisa quickly saw the benefits, positive results and simply the joy of being part of this big group of athletes who competed on the open water and had plenty of fun out of the water.

“My older brother, Nicholas Brinkel, also rowed at Pioneer,” says Brinkel. “He always had positive experiences with the sport and encouraged me to join the team my freshmen year. I always thought it was a cool and unique sport, and watching him row made me want to do it as well.”

So Brinkel jumped right in as a ninth-grader and never looked back.

“Some of the early challenges with crew were adapting to the nature of the sport, it’s much more team oriented than other sports,” she said. “If one person doesn’t show up and do their job, then no one can go out on the water. This is also the thing I like most about crew. While in other sports you can be replaced quite easily, in crew you have your own place in the boat.”

Brinkel’s place in the boat was in the “captain’s seat.” It was a role she not only enjoyed, but thrived in – both in and out of the water.

“I’m a coxswain, which means I’m the one who steers the boat and tells people what to do,” she says. “It can be compared to being the captain of a ship.”

Brinkel wasn’t just the “captain” of her boat, but also was one of the team’s captains during this, her senior year for the Pioneers. With the leadership involved with being coxswain, it makes a natural precursor to becoming team captain. Yet it’s not as common as one might expect.

Senior photo by Leisa Thompson

At the same time, it says a lot when a coxswain becomes captain, because it takes a lot for the coxswains to earn the respect of the rowers, and that respect is reflected when it comes time for the team to vote for its captains. And Brinkel certainly earned that respect – as the vote clearly showed.

Rowing also is a member of the Brinkel family. Lisa’s mom, Tina Brinkel, is a recent past president of the Pioneer Rowing Club, the nonprofit parent board that supports the coach and the team. Tina, who also is one of the team’s volunteer photographers, volunteered countless hours in the steering of the organization during her years as president.

Everything was rowing towards a big 2020 spring season for the Pioneer crew team when everything suddenly came to a halt because of the pandemic, which shut down all of the spring sports in Michigan. It hasn’t been an easy situation for anyone, including young athletes who had been training and preparing for their senior year.

“Not rowing this spring is hard for everyone at PRC there is no doubt about that,” Lisa says. “Spring is always so much fun and it’s when we show how fast we are. The regattas in the spring are what we spend all season preparing for, so to not compete in them certainly is difficult, especially as a senior.”

Brinkel says what has been going on with the pandemic is “really scary,” but like a good captain, she has kept her focus on what’s important.

“We all need to do our part in helping everyone stay safe,” she says. “I surprisingly miss school a lot, not just my friends and teachers but also the routine that comes along with it. I’m trying to keep myself busy.”

Brinkel, who has a 3.91 GPA, says her rowing highlights at Pioneer include medaling at states for three years in a row and coming in third at Canadian Nationals. She says she is going to miss her teammates the most.

“Over the past few years we’ve had a really close team and it’s going to be hard to leave them,” she says.

Brinkel isn’t going far – just a short row up the river.

“I plan on going to the University of Michigan to study economics,” she says. “As of right now I have no plans to play sports in college but that could always change.”