It was a cool spring morning at Branched Oak Lake in 1973. The sun was still rising and fog enveloped the nearby trees. There, 30 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students gathered around 320 pound cedar rowing shells, eagerly waiting to learn about a peculiar new sport.
While most of the students were there out of pure curiosity, none had any idea that they were at the beginning of a 50-year tradition at UNL: rowing.
The rowing team at Nebraska was founded by Nebraska graduate student Alan Maybee who was interested in bringing the sport to UNL despite the state being triply landlocked. The men's team was formed in 1969 and the women’s team in 1972.
On Sept. 24, Nebraska rowers from the last 50 years will gather in Lincoln to connect with former teammates to celebrate Nebraska’s long history of rowing. The alumni board, Friends of Nebraska Rowing, is organizing the event and is expecting over 100 alumni from all over the country to attend.
Ellen Jirovsky, one of the organizers for the event and communications representative for the alumni board, was one of the first members of the team. Jirovsky was a member of the team from 1973 through 1976. One of the reasons why she joined was because she felt rowing was a great opportunity to stay in shape, and she wanted to be a building block for the still-developing women’s club.
“I was a physical education major, so I thought it was a great way to stay active.” Jirovsky said. “But we also needed more women so my roommate and I went around campus recruiting. We got 30 members the first day, but it went down to 20 after they learned we had to run a couple miles a day.”
According to Jirosky, there were not many collegiate women’s sports when she arrived on campus due to the recent passage of Title IX, so she enjoyed the fact that there was a women's rowing team. However, what she most enjoyed was the team aspect and family atmosphere.
“It was a lot of fun, we were all close friends,” Jirosky said. “The women’s team had the choice of going varsity but we decided to stay as a club team because the guys were our brothers.”
Jane Anderson-Carr, another member of the first teams and Jirosky’s college roommate, said the camaraderie of the team is what made her Nebraska rowing experience so special.
“You can’t minimize the value of the team and teamwork, and all the moments you spend together,” Anderson-Carr said. “Crew was truly an opportunity to live life to the fullest.”
On the evening of the Sept. 24, alumni will gather at that same boathouse from many years ago and get a taste of race day, including team traditions like Valentino's pizza and hot dogs. Following that, alumni will take golf cart tours around campus.
The next morning, they will meet at Pawnee Lake to ride in the old rowing shells, followed by a formal banquet that evening.
“It's really going to be a great thing to get people from 50 years of rowing in one place,” Jirosky said.
The banquet will also feature a notable guest, USRowing’s CEO Amanda Kraus. Kraus is also the founder and CEO of Row New York, an award-winning organization with a focus on making the sport of rowing accessible to young people, according to its website.
“We are so excited to host Amanda because we want to show that Nebraska is not just fields of corn,” Jirosky said. “Although we are landlocked, we have a long history of rowing at Nebraska and we hope Kraus is able to see how special it really is.”
In fact, the impact of Nebraska rowing still lasts 50 years later for many of its former rowers. For Jirosky, after her college rowing days, she saw the value of staying active and has continued to stay active since. In addition, she stays in contact with many former teammates.
“I feel so lucky to be able to still exercise and stay healthy today.” Jirosky said. “I also feel lucky to still be friends with people from my rowing days.”
For Anderson-Carr, rowing taught her many lessons in not just rowing but about life, such as showing resiliency and the power of teamwork and friendship.
“This sport is not for the weak, you really build character,” Anderson-Carr said. “It was working hard alongside the other women everyday that kept me in it.”
Because of the impact that rowing had on them, alumni of Nebraska rowing hope that rowing continues to positively impact students' lives like it did for them so many years ago.
“We didn’t know what we were doing at first, but we got better and better and are happy that we stuck with it and we want to help others.” Jirosky said. “It taught us you can do anything you put your mind to and provided a family on campus. Rowing changed our lives for the better.”