Wichitan Liz Mathews charts rowing course among U.S. elite

Liz Mathews, a Wichita native who rows for Oklahoma City University, has been named to the U.S. women's rowing team and will compete in the World University Games.
Liz Mathews, a Wichita native who rows for Oklahoma City University, has been named to the U.S. women's rowing team and will compete in the World University Games. The Wichita Eagle

Finals week at Oklahoma City University got a little chaotic for senior Liz Mathews.

There was the lost wallet that led to a quick trip home to Wichita to replace her driver’s license. Then came car trouble and moving out of an apartment, all while Mathews prepared to head to Philadelphia for one of the final competitions of her collegiate rowing career.

“I haven’t really had a chance to think about what lies ahead,” the 22-year-old Mathews said.

When the calendar flips to June in a couple weeks, all the unpredictability should give way to anticipation and excitement.

Mathews, a 2011 Trinity Academy graduate, will spend the month training for the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. She was selected to the U.S. women’s rowing team after a four-day tryout in January in Oklahoma City.

Liza Dickson, Mathews’ coach at OCU, will lead the 10-woman U.S. team, which competes July 3-5. It will be Mathews’ first international competition.

“There’s a big jump from high school to college-level competition, and the jump from college to the elite level is even bigger,” said Mathews, one of three U.S. rowers who will compete in the two-oared, open weight sculling. “I’ll be getting a taste of a new kind of rowing.

“Being able to travel and train with different people – I love my team at OCU, but all those new aspects will be really refreshing.”

Mathews devoted many of her pre-college years to ballet, and competed in soccer, swimming, cross country and track. Inspired by one of her five brothers, Pete, a former rower at West Point, Mathews first tried the sport as a high school junior and began training more frequently with Wichita Rowing Association coaches Brian Adamson and Leah Condon as a senior.

Mathews first connected with OCU unintentionally. During a recruiting visit to Central Oklahoma, she mistakenly entered a boathouse where OCU trains. The OCU coach guided her to an adjacent boathouse to find Central Oklahoma’s coaches, sharing information about OCU along the way.

Though she later switched majors to elementary education, Mathews became more intrigued with OCU after learning about its nursing program. Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District also has been a training center for U.S. Olympic hopefuls.

“Everything here is pretty focused on the elite level,” Mathews said. “There’s always someone in the background where you end up rubbing shoulders with Olympians. It has an air of high-level athleticism.”

Mathews flourished in the environment. She also competed in cross country for two seasons for the Stars, an NAIA program, before turning her focus to rowing.

“Liz has a lot of talent,” Dickson said. “She has challenged herself to improve her skills, strength and fitness. She has grown so much as an athlete, and her acceptance to the World University Games team is a testament to that evolution.”

Mathews, who will return to OCU in the fall to complete her degree work and continue training, finished her collegiate rowing career in style this month. She won her third consecutive women’s singles title at the Dad Vail Regatta, the largest collegiate regatta in the country. Last weekend, she helped OCU finish sixth in the varsity eight race at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

“It all helped me to think through what I’m shooting for in the future,” Mathews said. “Being back in the single at the Dad Vail reminded me how much I love it. I’m thrilled to be training in smaller boats.

“But we also did really well in the eights in California. And I love rowing with other people. When that ended, there was part of me that thought, ‘I’m not ready to give this up.’”

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