Longhorns follow senior captain’s lead

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Rowing

 

After four years of rowing for Texas, senior captain Jennifer VanderMaarel is finally getting the individual recognition her teammates know she deserves. It couldn’t be coming at a more fortuitous time, as the talented Longhorns gear up for this Saturday’s meet at Kansas, a stepping stone on their way to the Big 12 Championship at the end of this month and — they hope — the NCAAs beyond that. In the fall, VanderMaarel was named athlete of the year by ROWONTARIO, a Canadian rowing organization of 60 clubs and more than 
7,000 rowers.
 
“It was a big shock, and I was completely blown away and humbled,” she said. “I had no idea it was coming, and it was a very
 big honor.”
 
VanderMaarel spends her off-seasons with St. Catharines Rowing Club in her hometown of St. Catharines, a medium-sized city on the road between Buffalo and Toronto just on the Canadian side of the border. Despite not learning to row until high school, VanderMaarel has quickly become not only one of the best at Texas but a respected rower across North America.
 
And as captain, VanderMaarel motivates her team with her tough-as-nails example.
 
“Being captain involves being a leader in what you’re doing, your work ethic and your attitude,” she said.
 
She was elected captain by the team at the beginning of this season after being voted the most competitive rower by teammates during her sophomore and junior years.
 
“Jen is a leader, and people respect her toughness,” said head coach Carie Graves. “One reason she pumps up the team is that she isn’t 6’1” [like most of the varsity roster].”
 
The 5-foot-7-inch senior said she started out competing in high school as one of the tallest rowers but soon stopped growing, which may have played in her favor.
 
“When I came to Texas, I really noticed that I was shorter than most people,” VanderMaarel said. “I think being shorter definitely has made me tougher though because I know I am going to have to work harder for something than someone with that natural gift.”
 
The Canadian national grew up knowing rowing was the competitive outlet for her. In a sport where a single bad stroke could cost you an entire six-minute race, the ability to stay focused is vital to individual and team success.
 
“I love that it gives you a chance to test yourself every single day. You have to keep doing it,” VanderMaarel said. “I love how much teamwork is needed to make the boat go fast. It’s very much an individual and team sport.”
 
Since her sophomore season, VanderMaarel has mainly rowed stroke seat in the women’s eights event, meaning she is solely responsible for setting the pace and rhythm of the boat throughout the race as the rower directly in front of the coxswain. 
 
“I definitely felt more pressure my sophomore year at stroke seat, but as I’ve grown and done it more, I’ve become more comfortable,” she said. “It comes with pressure to set a good rhythm and pace, but I like the added pressure.”
 
Rowing takes up most of her life, but VanderMaarel likes to spend her free time exploring Austin and all it has to offer.
 
“When I came here for an official visit, I absolutely loved it and knew Texas was the place for me,” VanderMaarel said. “Now I like shopping downtown, going to South Congress and finding new places to eat around Austin.”
 
Those experiences, among others, have helped open up the woman from a small town in Ontario.
 
“When I first came here, I was incredibly shy, nervous and self-conscious,” VanderMaarel said. “I am leaving so much more confident and outgoing. I know what my abilities are, and I am so much more confident. As a rower, I’ve grown to reach my limits and be able to pass them. I’ve learned how to break through that barrier.”
 
In her senior season, VanderMaarel feels she and her teammates have a chance to do something great and reach their ultimate goal: the NCAA championship meet in May, which the Longhorns haven’t attended since back-to-back trips in 2002 and 2003.
 
“To make the NCAA Championships would be four years of hard work paying off, and it would be a really nice way to finish off my time here,” VanderMaarel said. “The team this year is the best out of my four years that I’ve been here. The team dynamic is awesome, and everyone works hard. We had a really successful fall season, and I’m really excited to see what we can do this spring.”
 
Following her graduation in May with a degree in health promotions, VanderMaarel plans to join a development training program in Canada, with hopes of being invited to row for the Canadian national team and eventually compete in the 2016 or 2020 Olympics.