Finding her stroke
Brooke Bahner was an athlete looking for a sport.
"I wanted to be in sports my whole life but I wasn't good enough because I kind of have a lack of dexterity," the soon-to-be Hudson High School senior said. "When people were throwing balls at me I'd either duck or miss."
But two summers ago she was kayaking with her mom, Gail, in Door County, "just chugging away, splashing water everywhere," she recalled. "Then my mom did some research because I was having so much fun and she signed me up for a learn-to row class at the Minnesota Boat Club. So on that very first day of my learn-to-row I was like, this is the sport for me."
Since then Bahner has competed in regattas all across Canada and the United States. She was part of the Minnesota Boat Club team that placed third in both the varsity double and varsity quad races at the Midwest Junior Championships in Cincinnati May 20-21 to qualify for the U.S. Rowing Youth National Championships in Sarasota, Fla., June 9-11, where they recorded the 10th fastest time in the varsity quad.
Not bad for a girl who had never seen a rowing boat before she got into one.
Bahner said she tried other sports, like volleyball and tennis. She wanted to play not only because it looks good on a college resume, but she was the kind of kid that needed something to balance her out physically and mentally. She said rowing has been the perfect match.
"I always loved exercising, I just never excelled at it to a noticeable degree," she said. "But it's like they say about weight training; once you start you kind of get addicted to it.
It's a whole lot of fun and I love the competition. And I love the improvement part; I'm doing something great for my mind and my body."
Bahner has plenty of other interests. She's been in her school's Future Farmers of America (FFA) for three years, serving as the group's reporter this last school year, and is involved in a local finance club and a writing group called The Flavor of Words. The one thing lacking was the physical part, but she said since she's started rowing, she's gotten noticeably stronger.
"I started off being more of a writer and a reader and not very athletic," she said. "But I feel so much better now because I can do things that otherwise would have taken more energy than I had. I remember my mile, when I first started running, was like 18 minutes; it was pretty bad. But I got it down to just over seven. So it's improved my cardio. It's just completely changed my life in what I'm able to do."
Bahner practices six days a week, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. during the school year and mornings in the summer, at the Minnesota Boat Club on Raspberry Island in St. Paul, rowing anywhere from 8-10 miles a day on the Mississippi River.
"That can often be exciting," she said about navigating the Mighty Mississippi. "After a large rainstorm there's usually several trees that we have to dodge, and there's been an unfortunate and occasional dead pig. There's a lot of barge traffic too. They have the right of way and we're smaller boats so we just cram to the side and wait for it to pass."
She said her training doesn't stop in the winter.
"We've actually been on the water when it's snowing out," she noted. "But when it's completely iced over we usE ergometers inside. Winter season is actually my favorite season because there's 8 or 10 different numbers on these machines and we're competing against our teammates to get the lowest times and we just blast the music. It's really fun."
Bahner's training regimen also includes plenty of sit-ups and planks to strengthen her core, and jump squats and stairs to increase leg strength.
"Most people think it's just an arm sport, but it's really all in the legs," she said. "You want to push yourself through the water as fiercely as possible. The arms are kind of guiding the oars."
There's also plenty of technique involved.
"We have to keep our strokes together," she said. "We want our oars to be in the water at the exact same time and to come out at the exact same time."
She said she's hoping to continue her rowing career in college if she finds the right school.
"It's a struggle between finding a college that will potentially give me a scholarship and one that has my major," she said. "I'm looking to go into applied economics with an emphasis on sustainability and research for the environment. I want to go to a school that's really green; solar power and recycling."
Regardless, she said rowing has already changed her life.
"I'm just so thankful that I found rowing," she said. "It's made me really happy with where I am in life. I feel like it was meant to happen because it just fits so perfectly in my life. It does take up a lot of time, but I think the commitment is worth it."