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Oberst finds adventure on UMass rowing team

If a student-athlete from Polk County was recruited by Roy Williams to play basketball at North Carolina, people would probably think that is a pretty big deal.

Oberst (fifth from left) in her novice eights boat.

Courtesy of Carla Oberst

Oberst (fifth from left) in her novice eights boat.

August 07, 2013

MONMOUTH - If a student-athlete from Polk County was recruited by Roy Williams to play basketball at North Carolina, people would probably think that is a pretty big deal.

For Carla Oberst, it wasn't exactly a recruitment, but the pursuit of a suggestion made at a college interview: try out for the rowing team if she went to the University of Massachusetts.

"When I went to visit we saw a practice and it looked like a lot of fun, so I decided to give it a shot," Oberst said.

She did, and this spring Oberst finished her first full year as a novice on the UMass women's rowing team.

Carla Oberst

Photo by Landon Kafka

Carla Oberst

"Most of the other girls that were recruited with me were pulled out of line at registration," Oberst said. "They basically look for the right height and lower body strength. They also don't mind training new people because they haven't learned any bad habits yet."

Rowing isn't exactly a traditional sport in many places, especially at the high school level, but Oberst quickly found herself on one of the premier college rowing clubs in the nation.

"If you would have asked me in high school if I would be a Division I athlete, I probably would have looked at you funny, but now I am and I would encourage anyone that is interested in pursuing athletics in college to at least try," she added. BR>   To put it into perspective, UMass women's rowing has won 13 out of the last 16 Atlantic-10 Championships. It is UMass' financial offset to the football program. Their coach, Jim Dietz, is a legend in the sport of rowing. His accomplishments as a competitor and coach in the sport have already landed him in the National Rowing Hall of Fame.

"He is very inspiring and impressive, and really knows what he is doing. The novices don't get to work with him very much, but we usually run into him in the morning before practice and he has already finished a 6K," Oberst said.

This fall, UMass will unveil its new $130,000 facility for the women's rowing team. The new boathouse is a testament to the success of the program.

"We were in some sort of old World War II structure, so we are pretty excited about our new place," Oberst said with a smile.

So you want to be a D-I athlete? When most of her collegiate peers are hitting the snooze button repeatedly until they can barely make their first class, Oberst and the women's rowing team are just getting out of the water after two hours of practice on the Connecticut River.

"Practice starts at 6:30 a.m., depending on the weather. We are usually out of the water by 8:30 a.m. and in time for 9 a.m. classes," Oberst said, "every day except Sunday."

The training doesn't stop there, however; Oberst is expected to lift weights three afternoons a week, and the other two days are a workout of her choice.

With the schedule rigors outside of the classroom, it might be difficult for any student-athlete to keep up, but with the help of UMass Oberst has also excelled in the classroom.

"It was an interesting transition, but UMass requires all athletes to take a class on being a student-athlete, and provides study halls and tutors if you are ever struggling with a class," Oberst said. "Time management is the biggest thing, and finding time in the day to do homework."

Oberst found the time, and was one of UMass' record 139 athletes named to the Atlantic-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll for maintaining a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Besides the boats and oars, which seem pretty self-explanatory, a lot more goes into rowing than meets the eye.

For instance, it is one of the few collegiate sports that competes year-round and has a full schedule of events ranging from the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, - one of the largest rowing events in the sport, which brings in competitors from around the world that often go on to compete in the Olympics - to smaller Atlantic-10 conference meets and championships in the spring.

"I was at the Head of the Charles this year, but did not compete," Oberst said. "It was still an amazing experience and I can't wait to be in a boat out there."

Last season, Oberst competed in the smaller, Foot of the Charles Regatta against other novice competitors.

"The biggest misconception in rowing is that it's arm strength, but actually all the drive from a stroke comes from the legs, and the arms are the technical part," Oberst said. "There are four main events, the eights, fours, pairs and singles."

The eights and fours also have an the extra rider, referred to as coxswain. You'll recognize this person as they are the only ones yelling into a bullhorn instead of paddling.

"They are usually pretty encouraging, but their main purpose is to make sure everyone is in sync. The better your team can stay together, the stronger the pulse and better overall speed," Oberst said.

Last season she spent most of her time in the third seat on the eights novice boat for UMass, but did get an opportunity to try out a pairs boat during practice.

"It was white-knuckles all the way," Oberst said. "Our coach told everyone to look out for a flipped boat, but we made it. We were pretty calm and steady so I am pretty sure they thought we could make it."

There were quite a few highlights throughout the season for Oberst, but by far her favorite moments were the competitions.

Photo Courtesy of Melody Banasiak

"We had two novice boats and they would always be switching us around to see who was the best - crossing the finish line is a great feeling."

It wasn't a perfect ride all the time, though.

"During one of our races, a girl 'caught a crab' right at the finish line, which is basically like tripping and can even flip a person right out of the boat. It was kind of embarrassing," Oberst said.

In regards to the future, Oberst has found in rowing, what she originally set out to do when choosing a college, an adventure.

"As much as I love Oregon, when I decided on where to go to school I kind of wanted it to be an adventure and see new places," Oberst said.

The team has offered her the opportunity to travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard to events, an annual Florida trip after winter break gets everyone recharged for the spring season - not to mention the opportunity to one day follow in the footsteps of her upperclassman peers who often go on to compete at international events all over the world.

"A lot of the girls on the team are very driven individuals, and you have to be," Oberst said.

In September, Oberst plans on sticking with the rowing team, no longer a novice.

"I'd really like to be able to race in one of the finals someday. I just want to cross that finish line and prove I could do it, whether that is with a team or individually.

"They call it the rowing bug, if you are bitten by it, it is hard to get away," Oberst said.

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