Senior rower Allison Connors poses with her dog in front of the University Center. Connors reflects on the past four years her and her teammates have shared on the rowing team. (Courtesy of Allison Connors)

Mountain Hawk Tribune: Allison Connors

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Allison Connors

My senior year’s spring season on the Lehigh women’s rowing team began with the announcement of its end.

I was in California on spring break with my team, rowing two to three practices a day at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. The team was the fastest it had ever been, and we had our eyes set on gold at the Patriot League Championships in May. 

On the morning of March 12, our coach called the team together at 7 a.m. I had arrived earlier than some of my teammates. I sat and waited for everyone to gather. The team all had an idea of what our coach was going to say to us. 

We heard the news together — our season was canceled. All team in-person practices would be prohibited. 

When our coach told us, you could hear the air leave the lungs of every single person in the room. We had worked so hard for a championship that we would no longer get to see. 

The reasoning behind this cancellation was understood. We, and the rest of the nation, had found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic seemingly overnight. It was important that we follow national and state guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. We had to give up our season to ensure the safety and health of others. 

We had preconceived notions of how this year would go. Now, we’d have to scrap them — and for good reason. 

The lives of others (and ourselves) far outweigh the perceived importance of anyone’s now defunct day to day routines. 

It could be easy to say the training that my teammates and I had endured this past year was for nothing. Yet, after some passage of time, I slowly realized this concept was not true. 

I walked away from that conversation with my coach thinking that I was not a student-athlete anymore.

But one does not just stop being a student-athlete. 

The lessons my teammates and I have learned will stay with us the rest of our lives. The love of our sport, our work ethic, the ingrained values of helping one another — these are things that will never leave us, and these are the most important parts of my last year with my sport. 

A gold medal around your neck at the end of the year means nothing without the work you did to put it there. We had done the work as a team to get that medal, and that means more than any championship could. 

I started rowing my freshman year of high school. I didn’t know much about this sport before then, except that my grandfather had rowed in college and proceeded to coach between tours in Vietnam. 

To say this man was (and still is) my hero is an understatement. I started rowing because of him. 

Growing up, I remember the light in his eyes as he described to me his time on the water. His whole facial expression would shift. His favorite story to tell was when he won the National Championships at the end of his senior year of college. 

Yet, he would not talk about how it felt to be on the podium. He would talk about the strokes he took in the boat, how crisply in time he was with his teammates and how hard they had pulled for one another.

I realized recently the story had never been about the result. It had always been about the hard work he and his teammates had shared as they rowed down the line.

When I first began to start the recruitment process with Coach Conley, he’d asked me why I wanted to row in college. I told him I could not imagine my life without rowing. 

I was right — I still can’t. 

There is a certain feeling you get in a boat that is unlike anything I’ve ever felt. You learn to push yourself harder than you ever thought you could, just to get your teammates across the finish line first. You’d do anything for them, and they would do anything for you. I wasn’t ready to let that go. 

Entering college, I severely lacked self-confidence. I was obsessed with specific performance-based goals instead of effort. I was terrified of failure and could not deal with any type of unknown. I increasingly became more high-strung after judging myself solely off of final results instead of how hard I had been pushing myself. 

I have since been shown that this line of thinking will oftentimes hurt you, rather than help you in life. 

During my time at Lehigh, my teammates and I endured so much. We faced failures, challenges and successes. We put in countless hours training on the fifth floor of Taylor Gym and out at the Lehigh River. I have learned so much from my coaches and teammates during these past four years and have become a better person because of it. I owe much of my ability to value this past year’s work to their constant support and guidance.

There are five women and seven men graduating from the Lehigh Rowing program this year. Their names are Sarah Boyer, Kate Butscher, Allison Connors (me), Taylor Dube, Jessica Osgoodby, James Altmann, Tim Connors, Dmitry Kuliaev, Chris Martensson, Scott Price, Dave Reid and Charlie Williams.

I am sure all of us would agree that if we could, we would have liked to have a season this spring. Though circumstances have made that impossible, the absence of a final race does not invalidate our time spent working hard together.

It has been an honor rowing for this team, and I am so grateful for my time here.

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