University of Michigan | Walk-on to the Top Rowing Club in the Nation

What is it like walking on to a program with 11 straight national competition appearances, a coach that knits, and 60 people at every practice patiently waiting for the frozen river to thaw? University of Michigan oarsman, Daniel Schulz, shares what his daily experience is like as a college rower at one of the most successful club programs in the country.

Schulz applied, tried out, and made the Michigan Rowing team earlier this year. This club gives incentive for all its rowers to improve even after they join the team. There is both a Varsity roster and Freshman/Novice Roster. Schulz, although not a Freshman, is new to rowing and is currently working his way up to the Varsity roster.

Michigan Men’s Rowing has won the previous nine team point championships at the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship along with 69 medals during the past 11 championship meets. The team includes around 100 members and four coaches. They successfully conduct a student-run recruitment and have a separate practice facility from the women’s varsity crew team. In addition to defending their national team points title year after year, they compete against fully funded D1 varsity programs like Wisconsin and Cornell. Three Michigan Rowing alumni have competed in the Olympics for the US since 1994.

Schulz, an undeclared sophomore, explains how he gets the D1 level competition and workload, besides maintaining a social life and a strong bond with his teammates, all without being an NCAA athlete. They provided Daniel with the opportunity to build on his raw talent at the most successful club program since 1994, one that competes with D1 level talent.

Shultz is juggling four classes for 15 credits along with practices every weekday at the new off-campus facility. Typically he wakes up 8:30 AM for his first class of the day and braves the freezing Michigan winter mornings.

Afterward, at around noon each day, he will go back to his apartment in the center of campus and cook himself lunch. Although he loves going out, eating in is what fits his budget and high-calorie diet best. He noted crew has put him into great shape and improved his cooking.

After lunch, he heads to his afternoon classes. He always finishes and gets back by 4:30 PM so that he can get to practice at 5:00 PM. Not having a car of his own, it is up to him to make it to the practice gym.

“I usually have to walk 15 minutes to get a ride to the longshore facility. It’s a new athletic facility where the basement was turned rowing gym. It’s worth the trip. The drive is only ten minutes from campus.” The locker rooms are very high quality and also hold the trophy case of the storied program. Although Michigan has had a women’s D1 program for 23 years, there is still not a men’s varsity team. The club program is the University’s highest level of rowing.

They describe themselves as “predominantly student-run but compete on a varsity level with other varsity crews across the nation. We boast walk-on athletes primarily, but additionally, draw rowers from high school programs who choose Michigan for its combination of academic and athletic strengths.”

Schulz says practice is tough. As a walk-on himself this past year, he was not accustomed to the intense daily workouts but quickly adjusted. Practices run for two hours and each practice has two to three of the coaches present. The Head Coach, Gregg Hartsuff, has a long resume of success in collegiate crew. However, Schulz mentioned that the assistant coaches also play a significant role in both training and team building. Daniel has grown especially close to them.

Practice is serious, but he says he and his teammates always have fun together when they are all in one gym. The funniest thing Daniel remembers from practice was walking into the gym after changing in the locker rooms and seeing one of the coaches on an exercise machine. The man was about to tell Schulz to row for two hours meanwhile he was sitting and knitting casually.

Crew is a team sport. The Men’s Rowing team has 12 Coxen on the roster, used to keep the boat organized and operating at maximum efficiency. Schulz mentioned how important it was for him to connect with the other rowers to get the row timing perfect. Daily practices and the Coxen are not the only things the crew team does to stay organized and efficient on the boats. They have philanthropy events, social events, and are hosting a spring break training trip to Georgia this year. The friendships Schulz made in just half a school year of membership to the club is a big reason why he still commits to practice every day.

By the time practice is over Daniel has rowed typically between 12 and 20 kilometers individually. On weeks where there is a meet, practices generally are less intense, but meets do not begin until the end of March. Either way, practice is exhausting and makes coming home even more rewarding. One of his favorite parts of the day is his after-practice, he states is a  “Nice, long, therapeutic shower.” By 8:00 PM, he is finished with all of his classes and practices for the day.

He has a lot of work as a sophomor, “After practice, everything slows down. I usually save all my homework for later at night. That’s my free time where I get my work done and relax.”  He does his homework, usually at his apartment on campus. Occasionally he will go to the library later at night to work but often does not go alone. Overall he finds it easier to concentrate at home.

Dinner is typically late. Most of the time he stays in to eat. “It was easier on the meal plan. Much less work. Now I cook myself dinner and lunch every day.” Cooking at his apartment also allows him to choose when he eats and exactly how much. In fact, he mentioned, “I eat a lot of gummy bears for dessert, fun fact.”

Once he is finished with his work for the night, he says “I only get to watch thirty minutes of Netflix per day. It’s kind of sad.” But he trades that time watching Netflix for spending time with his roommates, crew teammates, or his fraternity brothers. Until around midnight he goes out to his friends’ apartments or houses to hang out. Even with his classes and practice, he can maintain his friendships with the people he met before he joined crew as well as strengthen the bond between him and his rowing teammates. After heading home, he finally goes to bed around 12:15 AM.

The 60 or so people that come to each practice with him and the coaches that work with him every day are who he is rowing for. He is not bound to policies that athletes in the NCAA and university athletic department are. His membership to the club puts him out of NCAA jurisdiction without prohibiting competition against NCAA programs.

Many other Universities have successful club rowing programs, but what sets Michigan’s apart from the other is not only the level of success but the absence of an official men’s varsity team. This makes the Varsity roster of Michigan Rowing the highest level of rowing at a very competitive school. This situation gives students like Daniel an opportunity to walk-on and represents their school in competitions against others, sometimes rival, D1 schools. Here they can prove that they can be just as good if not better as athletes with scholarships and measure how far their hard work has taken them. This reward makes a day of the life a rower at a top club program that much more rewarding.

* Originally published on March 4, 2019, by Griffin Rubin

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