Sports

Sammamish grad Jennifer Cromwell ends summer with NCAA, world championships in rowing

Jennifer Cromwell, left, is a 2006 Sammamish graduate. She recently won a golf medal at the Under 23 Rowing World Championships in Belarus. She also helped the University of Virginia capture an NCAA team title in May. - Courtesy of Virginia Media Relations
Jennifer Cromwell, left, is a 2006 Sammamish graduate. She recently won a golf medal at the Under 23 Rowing World Championships in Belarus. She also helped the University of Virginia capture an NCAA team title in May.
— image credit: Courtesy of Virginia Media Relations

To call Jennifer Cromwell's summer a whirlwind would be an understatement.

Cromwell, a 2006 Sammamish graduate, kicked off her summer by helping the University of Virginia women's rowing team capture their first NCAA Championship on May 30 in Gold River, Calif.

Rather than let the achievement sink in, Cromwell was off just two days later to try out for the United States Under 23 National Team, a process that culminated Sunday when her women's Varsity Eight boat won gold at the Under 23 World Rowing Championships in Brest, Belarus.

Combine the rush of graduation with the thrill of a national title and the pride of a world championship and it's understandable why Cromwell just wants to take a few days for herself now that she's back home.

"I'm going to take a little break right now to unwind," Cromwell said from Virginia, just a day removed from spending over 24 hours in airplanes. "I need a chance to realize this all did really happen."

The gold medal was the cherry on top of a great summer for the 22-year-old who first took up rowing at 13 after watching her brother Lance enjoy the sport with the Sammamish Rowing Association. Cromwell, the daughter of former NFL defensive back and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver coach Nolan Cromwell, quickly excelled in the sport. After playing two seasons of basketball at Sammamish, Cromwell quit to focus extensively on rowing and was rewarded her junior year with an appearance for the U.S. National team in Amsterdam at the FISA Junior World Championships.

"I think rowing was just something so different and unique for me," she said. "I'm a very competitive person. With this sport, you're really able to push yourself."

Before graduating from Sammamish, she'd won 11 state championships and several gold medals at various elite rowing championships around the United States. She chose Virginia for a shot at making history with the Cavaliers and their rowing squad.

"I wanted to go to a school with great academics but also a strong rowing team that would push me further," Cromwell said. "They'd never won a national championship and that was a mission that I was committed to achieving."

She garnered plenty of awards along way. Cromwell was the 2007 Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and, by the end of her career, she'd been a two-time All-ACC selection, part of the ACC Crew of the Year (Varsity Eight) three times and was a three-time Collegiate Rowing Coaches Assocation (CRCA) All-America selection.

By her senior year at Virginia, the Cavaliers were the No.1 ranked squad in the nation and lived up to the hype, scoring 87 points and edging out California (82 points) and Princeton (76) for the program's first national title.

"It didn't really get a chance to sink in," Cromwell said. "To make history was exciting but we didn't have much time to celebrate."

By the next day, the team had gone their separate ways. For Cromwell, that meant heading to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., for the National team's training camp and tryouts. Cromwell made the squad, was assigned to the Varsity Eight crew and the team moved its practices back to Princeton, New Jersey, where they did nothing but work for the next month and a half.

"We never got a full day off," Cromwell said. "We were going two-a-days every day, sometimes three-a-days. I am not kidding when I say it was a lot of eat, sleep and row."

The team departed on July 16, flying into Warsaw, Poland and driving to Brest, Belarus for the competition. The venue for the event, a man-made lake, was "by far the best" Cromwell had ever rowed at.

"They built it specifically for attracting these type of competitions to their country," Cromwell said. "It was absolutely beautiful."

Cromwell's crew won their heat Friday, meaning they wouldn't have to race again until the championship race Sunday.

The U.S. team came out strong in the race for the gold, but a bad oar stroke left them in second place to the Canadian team at the 500-meter mark of the 2,000 meter race.

"We had a pretty good bobble and the boat got shaken up a little bit when one of the oars got caught underwater," Cromwell said. "We quickly got it back on the next stroke and cleaned it up. You don't focus on that, you have one bad stroke and just get it back on the next."

The U.S. team, as Cromwell put it, wanted to "own the middle 1,500 meters" and made a hard charge. The boat pulled out in front of the other crews and halfway through the race, was the uncontested leader. Instead of letting up, the team increased its speed and came down the final stretch faster then ever.

"We just kind of went crazy in that sprint," Cromwell said. "I felt like a mad, rabid animal getting after it."

As the U.S. team crossed the finish line in dominant fashion, finishing in 6:31.97, Cromwell had her first gold medal in four appearances for national teams.

"I couldn't believe it at the time and I don't think it settled in until we got out of the boat and went to the podium," Cromwell said. "When he called out my name and put the medal around my neck, I got chills.

"I always wanted to hear the national anthem and see that USA flag in the middle, rising above the other two," she added. "I had to pinch myself."

New Zealend finished in second in 6:36.48 and team Canada took third in 6:38.16.

Once again, Cromwell didn't have much time to let the victory sink in. The next day the team drove nearly seven hours back to Warsaw then flew to Newark, where Cromwell diverted one more flight back to Virginia. Now that she's home, however, she's taking a bit of time to reflect on the crazy summer that she's had thus far.

"Being able to go and represent the United States, I'm just so happy I was able to do something like this," she said. "I hope I can continue to."

Now Cromwell, this year's ACC Rowing Scholar-Athlete of the Year, turns towards the future. She said she plans to move to Princeton and continue training with the U.S. National team in hopes of representing the United States in more international competitions - as well as the 2012 summer Olympics.

"I'm excited to see where the future leads with rowing," she said. "If I am able to have a shot for 2012, that'd be pretty awesome. That's what everyone is shooting for."

But training can wait just a bit, she said. First, she's planning on taking a few days to visit her parents in St. Louis.

After the summer she's had, the little bit of rest and relaxation is well-earned.

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