Student athletes commit without competition


Raina Shah ’21 rows on the Schuylkill River. Photo courtesy of Hill Snapshots.

When I think back to the last time I raced on the Schuylkill, it now seems like it took place on a different planet. October of my 5th form year was the last time I was able to race at a proper regatta. My teammates and I hadn’t been in a boat since the previous May, and it was pouring rain. In my opinion, races like that are what crew is all about, adapting to your situation. No matter how much you train, the wind and current will always give you and your teammates another challenge. I think this transferred over to how I handled the cancelation of the 2020 racing season.

 For me in particular, that season was very important, and I struggled with the idea that it was no longer. I was making the switch from rowing to coxing in hopes to continue crew at the collegiate level, since my height of 5’1 made being a rower quite challenging. I needed the season to gain experience and results to show colleges. The pandemic made this impossible, and, when it came time to start emailing coaches, I was feeling very nervous and unsure. I had a few seasons of rowing experience, but I was trying to get recruited as a coxswain after only being in the cox seat for a few days. Stephen Ciraolo, head coach of girls crew, gave me the “you never know until you try” pep talk on Zoom in late spring, so I decided that I would. I remember rereading my first email 50 times before hitting send, and that first email eventually became what seemed like hundreds. I definitely had to get creative with sending race recordings because I didn’t have any official ones. I coxed alumna Paige Dendunnen ’19 on the erg in my basement and used that voice recording as my “try out.” 

As much as this was a stressful time for me, most of the coaches I was in communication with also had no idea of what their team would look like in the next year, let alone in the coming season. With so much cancellation at all levels of rowing, it was very unclear of what rosters would look like. In a way it felt as if coaches and athletes were in the same state of uncertainty and hopefulness. Patience became key when trying to figure out all of my options. As summer came to an end, my list began to narrow, and I ended up verbally committing to Tufts University to cox on the men’s team.

I was so excited to have found a school that I could see myself at and be able to continue the sport I love without having to sacrifice my academics. With that being said, I am very nervous for when I arrive at my first practice in the fall of 2021. The Hill School Boat Club rowed in singles this fall due to the need for social distance, so it was yet another season that I was unable to cox. While I was so grateful for the opportunity to be on the water and with my teammates and coaches every day, it makes me anxious to know that I’ll only have this spring, one season, in the cox seat. I am very lucky to have coaches at Tufts who understand my situation, but that still doesn’t necessarily put me at ease. I am trying to do as much coxing as I can here at Hill, but for now I am telling myself that finally making the switch from rowing to coxing in a proper racing season will be yet another nerve-wracking and exciting facet of my life in college.