When Ilyena Kozain graduated from Proctor in 2010, returning to work in Proctor’s Admissions office and starting a crew program at her alma mater were as far from her imagination as possible. During a successful academic and athletic career at Union College Ilyena was a three-year captain of the Union Crew team and earned the distinction of taking part in the Minerva Fellows program before spending a year working at the Engeye Health Clinic in Uganda. Since her return to Proctor last fall, Ilyena has transferred the lessons she learned by trying a new sport in college to a group of Proctor students eager to not only learn about the sport of rowing, but to take on new challenges that require teamwork like any other sport.
Students like senior captain Kali Brown ‘17 have been instrumental in helping launch Proctor’s crew program, one of a number of high school crew programs on the rise in New Hampshire. Their energy, combined with Kozain’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport have triggered a meteoric rise in demand for the program among students. With 21 students on the roster this fall, ranging in ability from novice to experienced, teamwork on and off the water is at a premium. Kali notes, “Rowing is known as the ultimate team sport, and I enjoy the feeling of making the boat move under you and everyone in sync and working alongside each other. In crew, it's all or nothing when you and your teammates are rowing with each other.”
Kozain adds, “Proctor’s Crew program has grown immensely in its second year as we’ve expanded from 12 to 21 students and added an assistant coach, Dan Mori ‘83. We’ve also expanded our horizons with regards to regattas (attending five this fall). With a rigorous pre-season training week, snazzy new uniforms, Proctor Crew apparel, and the Proctor Crew banner decorating our tent at regattas, we certainly feel established!”
The diverse backgrounds of students on this year’s team reinforces the power of the sport of crew (read this article to see just how powerful the sport is!). Kozain elaborates, “Crew is a very different kind of sport. It's also a very difficult sport. The stroke is not intuitive, the language and terminology is extensive, and it takes years to reach a level of fluency and rhythm that you would find in an experienced boat. It's an incredible opportunity for students to develop leadership, both on and off the water and for athletes to understand how to work together, despite uncommon experiences. It's also exciting to be surrounded by students of all different backgrounds, genders, grade levels and rowing experience. It offers something unique in that it is gritty, gnarly sport in which your main competitor is yourself, and yet, success is completely dependent on how well you can work together as a team.” Kali Brown notes, “This team is comprised of people from all walks of life coming together for a shared purpose. The first weeks were critical in getting to know each other, but coming into the first race we saw the fruits of our hard work as the girls’ and boys’ boats moved nicely together and really bonded.”
While there are too many highlights to count from the season thus far, Kozain singles out a few moments that epitomized the challenges associated with rowing. “We’ve been lucky to particate in five very different regattas this year and each has brought its own highlights. The boats rowing into the dock after a race with the foot stretchers in hand as they broke in the middle of the race and the boat had to just 'row through it', team impromptu dance de-rigging parties, and the delight after completing a 5k, in costume, in the freezing cold are just a few that come to mind.”
When asked what she hopes her student-athletes got out of this season, Kozain notes, “Our goals for each of our rowers is that they develop a cohesive team dynamic, positive morale, grit, persevere through difficulty, and build their skills and physical endurance. Because we have both novice rowers and varsity rowers, there is a range of abilities, but our overarching goals are for every rower to improve and develop a fluency with rowing and a responsibility with the equipment and focus on the water. Our team has accomplished that this fall, and we couldn’t be more proud as coaches!”