When Head Coach Gil Birney retired last spring after 22 years, the Bowdoin crew team had a major void to fill. Stepping into his new position as head coach is former assistant Doug Welling. The team also added assistant coach Ry Hills, who brings with her a strong commitment to physical fitness and experience competing in national championship regattas.
In the first few weeks of the season, the coaches have already merged their leadership styles, focusing on both technique and form.
“Both [coaches] emphasize the feel of the boat and they treat rowing as more of an art form than a sport,” said Matt Donnelly ’22. “Perfecting a stroke is like perfecting an art form, and it feels like a living, breathing thing pulling your boat through the water.”
Before coming to Bowdoin, Hills was an Olympic hopeful, stopping just shy of making the Olympic crew team. She went on to coach a junior crew team to the world championships. Looking back, she realizes how fundamental crew was to her self-esteem and athletic ability.
“One thing rowing does for you, regardless of your skill level, is give you a sense of confidence,” said Hills. “The level of physical fitness that you get to in rowing — it’s the most fit I’ve ever been. Both [in] raw strength and aerobic [endurance].”
Hills gained experience sailing before her rowing career began. Her skill in the water corresponds with her ability to give rowers instructions. With a roster that includes many newcomers, this supportive environment is crucial to the team’s success.
Four out of five days a week, the team is on the water at 6 a.m. On Saturdays, the team “sleeps in,” and does not start rowing until 8 a.m.
The Head of the Charles, the team’s longest regatta, is just a few weekends away. Competition from around the world, including Ivy League schools and Olympic contenders will be in attendance. This high level of competition is unusual for a club team. But Hills adheres to the idea that “being a club doesn’t limit us at all in terms of who we race.”
This weekend, the crew team will have an opportunity to test its beginners at the Textile River Regatta in Lowell, Mass.
“It’s a great regatta for first-time rowers because it’s an easy course to steer,” said Hills. “It’s pretty straightforward, and there is decent competition, but not the kind that will be at the Head of the Charles.”
Despite a slew of new members and a few upperclassmen rowers studying abroad, the team has high expectations for this upcoming season. They are hoping, and planning to medal, once again, at the Head of the Charles this year.
The crew team is constantly looking for new recruits and encourages interested students to reach out to coaches Welling or Hills.