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Wichita State crew is growing on the river

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, at 10:24 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, at 10:45 p.m.

Frostbite Regatta

Where: Little Arkansas River, South Riverside Park near Ralph Wulz Tennis Center

When: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Who: 750 rowers from 25 clubs and schools, including Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado, Colorado State, Missouri, Nebraska, Creighton, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma

Christian Kindel remembers his ego-blasting introduction to crew. Gender equity can be a humbling experience in a 2-kilometer race on the rowing machines.

“I got beat by a couple of girls,” he said. “That was a little embarrassing. I wasn’t very fast.”

Sydney Blanton didn’t enjoy rowing when she first tried the sport. The techniques frustrated her and the wakeup call for practice comes early. William Calderwood needed time to figure out how an endurance sport requires different training from basketball and soccer.

Once they got past the introductions, however, all three quickly grew to love the sport. They are fourth-year rowers at Wichita State and finish their fall schedule in the 21st Frostbite Regatta on Sunday on the Little Arkansas River.

All three share a similar story, one that reveals how WSU coach Calvin Cupp stocks his roster. They played sports in high school. They wanted to change sports and continue to compete. The teamwork and camaraderie of crew made up for all the early mornings and sore muscles.

Blanton swam at Trinity Academy and grew tired of the sport in her senior year. She started looking into rowing while researching an assignment for speech classic and experimented with the Wichita Rowing Association’s high school program. She visited a WSU practice and decided she liked the potential. Four years later, she rows from the bow seat. She knows teammates depend on her.

“As you keep rowing through the years, the people who stick with it, you start to form a family,” she said. “It’s going be hard at first, but if you stick it out and keep going, you’re going to really enjoy it. You’re going to get better.”

Kindel did. He ran distances and swam at North. He missed the competition in his first semester at WSU, so he joined the crew and found enjoyment in the fact everybody is in the same boat. It didn’t take him long to join the men’s varsity eight.

“The team is a much bigger part than my previous sports,” he said. “In swimming and running, you’re on a team and all of your scores count together, but in rowing you don’t finish until everyone else in your boat finishes. The fun part is being in the boat.”

Cupp’s team is growing with these type of stories. He has 68 athletes, up eight from two years ago. He is more optimistic than ever that a boathouse on the Arkansas River, potentially part of the downtown development plan, is a realistic goal. Every morning, his crew trucks their shells from a temporary home at BG Products on South Wichita to South Riverside Park for practice. Every morning, seven volunteer coaches hit the river on five small motorboats to instruct.

“We’re having good problems, and the good problem is our numbers are up,” he said. “We had to take two charter buses to Oklahoma City (for a regatta in September). And we’re doing that living off of a trailer while we get our boathouse situation worked out. We’re giving them something that’s challenging, and also something that’s fun.”

Sunday’s race is WSU’s second of the fall, a lighter schedule than Cupp prefers. After another few weeks of practice, his rowers will come off the water and concentrate on conditioning to prepare for the busier spring season.

“The upside to having a race early like we did … is that there’s a big time-span so they can really see what we’ve worked on and what we’ve gotten better at,” Cupp said. “It’s nice to have a home race.”

Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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