Lehigh women's rowing seniors pose after the River Cup in Quakertown on April 7. The Mountain Hawks defeated Lafayette College to win the River Cup. (Courtesy of Laura Parks)

Senior rowers reflect on 4-year journey at Lehigh

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Of the remaining seniors on Lehigh men’s and women’s rowing, only four from each team have competed throughout the entirety of their undergraduate athletic careers.

Several of these seniors decided to join the rowing team after enrolling at Lehigh.

“I was looking for something to fill up around three hours per day,” Zach Hille said. “I saw a flier, and I thought I would both really enjoy the team and would enjoy the structure it provided.”

On the other hand, a few were recruited to the team.

Chet Bickhart was one of 10 rowers in his class who were recruited. Of those 10, only two remain as seniors.

“I was both recruited to be on the team and was accepted into the IBE program,” Bickhart said. “It was really an ideal situation.”

Despite starting on a high note, Bickhart said it was hard losing teammates after each season.

“It was kind of tough to be honest,” Bickhart said. “There were 55 guys on the roster when I got here, and there were fewer each year.”

In October 2015 – the seniors’ second year on the team – the rowing team’s bus flipped after it was struck by a car. Eighteen rowers suffered minor injuries, and the driver of the car was pronounced dead at the scene.

While the accident might have presented an obstacle to overcome, Bickhart said, if anything, it brought the team closer together and didn’t slow down the progress the Mountain Hawks were making.

Bickhart said one of the reasons for the dwindling numbers was a culture change. He said when coach Brian Conley arrived on campus five years ago, Conley brought high expectations that not each rower could keep up with.

Hille said while he understood the commitment he signed up for and chose to stick with the sport, he realizes it isn’t for everyone.

Laura Parks said a typical day for Lehigh rowing starts with morning lifts, which the team does together a few times a week. As a commuter student, Parks then travels home to eat breakfast and get ready for class. After a full day of class, she drives 20 minutes to the boathouse to complete on-water training. Since there isn’t an offseason for the Mountain Hawks, this daily schedule is consistent throughout the year.

Despite the demanding schedule, Hille said being on the team is rewarding.

Hille said his relationship with his teammates is like “being a part of a family.” Since he lives in New Mexico, he has only been home five times throughout his time at Lehigh. Instead, he spends holidays with various teammates.

For Parks and Bickhart, simply seeing the program’s improvements is enough incentive to continue working hard.

“It’s been so great to see the program build upon the foundation that the senior class has worked so hard to build,” Bickhart said. “It has really been rewarding. It gets me excited as a future alumnus to see the direction of the program.”

Parks said she enjoys seeing even one of the team’s boats score higher and feeling like she and her teammates are in sync.

Although the seniors look forward to taking the memories they’ve made as Lehigh rowers with them when they graduate, they said they still have a few goals for the remainder of the season.

Hille said he hopes his teammates will remain healthy and not suffer from any serious injuries. Bickhart has his eyes set on finding someone to step into his role as one of the team’s leaders.

“We sat down as a team as we do at the beginning of each season because that’s a way to get the whole squad to buy in,” Bickhart said. “Within that, we had a lot of performance, academic and social goals. One of the team goals is to finish in the top 10 in the Regatta Championship, the Dad Vail Regatta. One goal for myself, as senior captain, is passing that baton to another leader.”

The seniors have a handful of races left in their careers, which conclude with each team’s respective championship on May 11.

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