Abby Stephan remembers her early days with the Pioneer Rowing Club. “I remember looking up to the captains when I was a freshman and they were all role models for me,” says Stephan.
Now the oar is in the other boat, so to speak. Stephan is a senior and a captain for the Pioneers.
“It means a lot to me that I was voted captain. I hope that I can be a role model for the underclassmen,” she says. “Being a captain means being a role model for the other athletes and making sure our team environment can stay positive and supportive. I hope to help other people on the team as they helped me when I was a freshman.”
Let’s row back to the starting line, shall we.
“I was very nervous at first about not knowing anyone, but I made friendships almost immediately that have lasted all four years,” she says of her Pioneer rowing career. “I’ve also played tennis in the past, but what makes crew different is definitely the team aspect. You have to work with every single person in that boat, and you have to trust that everyone is working their hardest, too.
“Crew is much more mentally challenging compared to other sports I’ve tried. You need to figure out how to keep rowing your hardest even when you want to give up.”
She has been rowing with Pioneer since that freshman year. The highlight of her first year in the boat was winning a silver medal at American Nationals. During her junior year, Stephan ended up rowing in singles for the fall season because of Covid. “So States of my junior year was especially memorable since we could finally get back to competing in larger boats,” she says.
“We’re all really excited to get back to more competitive regattas in the Spring. We get to compete at States, Midwests, and Canadian Nationals this spring, and we’re all hoping to earn medals at these regattas.”
While they aren’t competing, winter months is no “off” season for rowers.
“Our winter training is a mix of erging and weight lifting; that is definitely the most intense training we do,” Stephan says. “I think it is the most physically and mentally challenging portion of our season because you need to find the motivation to keep erging even when you have no upcoming competitions.”
Stephan says the Pioneer team is “very close” – in and out of the boat. And it’s that special bond that makes the team, well, special.
“We practice for two hours every day after school and then have regattas or scrimmages on the weekends, so we end up seeing a lot of each other,” she says. “I think this year our team is especially bonded; I have such close friends on the team that they end up feeling more like family.”
Speaking of family, Abby, 17, is the daughter of Susan and Dave Stephan. She rows to a 3.99 GPA in the classroom and is on Student Council, Orchestra Council and the Pioneer Reads Club. She also has been in orchestra (viola) since she was a freshman and is interested in studying neuroscience next year.
Stephan is still deciding on college and whether she wants to add rowing to her schedule. But her focus right now is on preparing for the Spring season and helping the Pioneers continue their amazing legacy in crew.
“I think we are able to do so well because every person on the team is committed to working their hardest every day,” she says. “We all are working towards a common goal and helping other people on the team succeed as well. The most important part is that we all love the sport and want to make sure the team as a whole does well.”
Senior photos by Leisa Thompson
Rowing photos by Robert Raux