Profile: Pioneer senior Ella Cunningham is going to miss the community aspect of rowing

Pioneer senior Ella Cunningham enjoyed her time in the boat as a key member of the Pioneer rowing team, but it was the entire experience she is going to miss the most when she sails away for her next set of challenges in life.

“I am going to miss the community of people I got to see every day and row with at practice,” she says. “Additionally, one of my favorite parts about the sport is the downtime at regattas, and getting to hang out with everyone while we cheer on other boats.

“This whole situation (the pandemic) has made me really appreciate my team and made me realize what seeing everyone every day meant to me.”

And Cunningham and her teammates had plenty of reasons to cheer during her four years.

“My main rowing highlights include getting third place in the mid-weight eight at Canadian Nationals in 10th grade and getting first place in both the varsity and lightweight 8 at states junior year,” said Cunningham. “Additionally, the women’s team winning states freshmen year and the team winning overall and women’s points at states junior year.

“One of the most rewarding races for me was getting fourth in the varsity eight at Canadian Nationals junior year, because we rowed really well and beat a boat that we had been chasing all season.”

Ella, the daughter of John and Rebecca Cunningham, first heard about crew when she was in middle school. She says it “just seemed really cool to me so I tried out in the middle school learn to row program.”

When Cunningham started at Pioneer, she joined the team right away and says it was really nice to have a community to go to every day after school. She also quickly discovered that rowing was much more than jumping in the boat and dropping your oar in the water.

“In the beginning, I think one of the hardest things about rowing was learning how to push myself,” she says. “Rowing is a very physical sport, but there is also a huge mental component, and it took me a while to figure out how to get the most out of myself during a race, or even practice.

“What I immediately loved about crew was the sense of community. We all row to the start together, and then we’re in it for each other all the way to the end, and that can be a really powerful experience which most other sports don’t have in the same way.”

Her role on the Pioneer team was as a rower.

“And though I have been moved from side to side, I mainly row in seven seat (in my opinion the most fun seat in the boat),” says Cunningham, named one of the team captains for this season. “Seven seat sits directly behind the stroke in the stern of the boat. It is often thought of as a technical position, necessary to translate the rhythm of the stroke through the rest of the boat.”

Like all of her teammates, Cunningham was excited to get back out on the water and race this spring. She says it is “sad” that they won’t have a final spring season.

“The winter season was tough for me but I pushed through because I knew how important it is to be ready for spring,” she says. “And as a team it was looking like we had a chance to accomplish a lot of our goals for the season. This is one of my favorite parts of the year for crew and it’s sad to think about how we would be on the water everyday right now watching the leaves change and the days warm up.”

Cunningham says the current situation the world finds itself in has been a “really weird” time for her.

“It’s definitely the most dramatic shift in my day-to-day routine that has ever happened in my lifetime,” she says. “Everything I thought I could count on about the future and my normal life disappearing has been a really interesting change in perspective for me.

“For instance, there were a lot of conversations in the fall about how to handle our annual crew graduation because of a regatta conflict, but within a matter of days real graduation, and all of the regattas, were canceled. Now it’s funny to think back on all the discussions about how to make sure people could still go to real graduation.”

Staying busy has been a good way to help her keep her focus and that includes trying to maintain some semblance of a schedule each day.

“I have been organizing things that I never found time for before, and doing a lot of cooking and crafts,” she says. “I miss seeing everyone at school, so it has been nice to see people in virtual classes or on zoom.”

Cunningham, who has a 3.99 GPA, was also a member of the Pioneer Symphony Band, Full Orchestra, Flags and the Foreign Exchange Club. She will be attending Carleton College (hopefully starting this fall).

Main Photo by Lori Page