Rowing: A Unique Opportunity

  • By Julie Brown
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  • October 28, 2011 11:15 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – It’s not uncommon for high school athletes from other countries to travel to the United States to pursue a collegiate athletic career. For many of them, the opportunity to continue participating in sports after high school doesn’t exist at home.

This certainly holds true for West Virginia sophomore rower Karen Verwey.

A native of Te Puke, New Zealand, Verwey decided to pursue her collegiate education in the United States for a number of reasons, one of which being a newfound interest in the sport of rowing.

She was first introduced to the sport during the 2004 Athens Olympics after watching New Zealand natives and twins Carolina and Georgina Evers-Swindell power their way dramatically to their first Olympic Gold medal in the double scull event.

Much as women’s soccer in the United States experienced a surge in popularity after the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the same held true for women’s rowing in New Zealand after the success of the Evers-Swindell’s, with a substantial increase in girls rowing numbers and competitive international crews.

“Before they won gold, I didn’t know anything about rowing,” Verwey admitted. “But during my first year of high school a couple of my friends were going to join the rowing team and I decided to tag along.”

Verwey had a natural athletic ability, and soon found herself rowing for selective club teams such as the North Island U18 Team, and the Waikato Interprovincial Team.

“For the U18 North Island team you were selected to trial based on how you did at high school and nationals and then from there we did the trial and a lot of seat racing,” she explained. “The top eight sweepers and top four scullers represented the north island and the south island."

She also competed at the New Zealand Club Nationals in 2010, placing second in the women’s 4- race and fourth in the open eight competition.

After experiencing this success, it soon became apparent that rowing
could open the door for Verwey to pursue another important avenue in addition to education, world travel.

“My coach in high school used to coach at Washington State and I found out that you could get scholarships for rowing,” she explained. “I knew that I wanted to get life experience and be able to travel before starting my career and this is a good way of traveling and being able to row competitively while getting university work and a degree at the same time.”

Verwey’s love of travel was instilled in her by her parents, who took the family of seven on trips to Holland and Australia along with the United States when she was younger.

“I’ve always just wanted to see the world,” Verwey stated. “At the moment, I really want to go to South America and I want to try and get to all of the states as well.”

For this moment, however, she’s enjoying her time in her chosen state of West Virginia. Despite interest from Oregon State, Rutgers, Old Dominion, Georgetown, Kansas State and others, Verwey chose to live in Morgantown because of the similarities it contained with her hometown.

“My hometown has 7,000 people,” she said with a smile. “We call ourselves the kiwifruit capital of the world. It’s similar to Morgantown in the fact that there’s a lot of surrounding farmland. Te Puke means the hill in the Maori language, but it’s not as mountainous as Morgantown is. I feel like even though Morgantown is bigger, it’s still got that small town feel where you still know a lot of people.”

Additionally, West Virginia University offered the opportunity to major in criminology and investigations, which Verwey wants to use towards a career as a dog handler with the Armed Offenders Squad, a New Zealand Police Unit.

As a sophomore though, she has some time before pursuing her future career.

Time that she uses to focus on school and rowing, especially on helping the team finish well. This weekend, the team travels to Philadelphia for the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta on the Schuylkill River. Arguably one of the largest and most prestigious fall regattas, this year around 5,800 athletes are expected to cross the finish line of the 2.5-mile course.

Last year, the Mountaineers placed extremely well with both women’s Varsity 4+ entries placing in the top seven of 34 crews and the Varsity 8+ placing seventh out of 21.

“Our goals for this year are to be better, faster and stronger,” Verwey said. “We want to improve on last year’s placing, and I believe that we can achieve that.”

With this determined attitude and positive outlook, there’s no limit to just how well the team will place this weekend.