This week I got to hear from Emmett Gilles, a senior Classics and Comparative Literature major. He is in his second year as President of the UNC Men’s Crew Team. Outside the team, his activities include a role on the Spot Clubs Executive Council, leadership in two honorary intellectual societies, classical piano and mentorship on the Carolina Mock Trial team. He fills us in on what it’s like to be a member of the Crew Team, including the novice rower experience, what a typical practice is like and the team’s accomplishments and goals for the year.
1. What made you decide to join crew?
Though I had never rowed before, I joined crew in college because I thought it would be a great way to keep myself on a training regimen. Was I ever right about that! I also hoped the team would provide a ready friend group for me, a good way to make friends with guys that was less academic than my classes but more goal-oriented than a house party. I found the team to be incredibly welcoming.
2. Tell us about your first experiences as a rower.
As a novice rower, I spent a huge amount of time training and learning to row with my novice peers. We all kept one another’s spirits up through the long, cold mornings and exhausting heat of the afternoons. We bonded both on the water, in the gym and after practice in the dining hall, where we’d rack up record numbers of plates, outdoing one another in feats of gastric elasticity. We became so close that novice year that I can’t imagine my freshman year without crew.
3. What is your favorite thing about this sport?
From sophomore year on, as a varsity oarsman, crew has continued to play a huge part in my college experience. My days and weeks are structured by practice schedule, my diet is regulated by the needs crew imposes on my body, the stresses and exaggerated priorities of my academic life are put into perspective by the commitment required to compete at the elite collegiate level. This is probably my favorite thing about crew- the perspective it lends to the rest of life. The little anxieties and hitches of everyday academic life fade away a bit when you take a step away from it all and concentrate every bit of muscle, mental focus and will to overcome fatigue out on the water. Another of my favorite things about crew is the value we place on personal dedication and hard work. The core value of the team is that input equals output. Work hard and you will succeed. Slack and you will fall short. Both individually and as a team, this is what keeps us striving, ever onward, towards the ultimate goal: winning a national championship.
4. Tell us about some of your team’s accomplishments.
Over the past two years, our varsity team has seen increasing success at the national level. In 2011, we won the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championship in a 4-man boat, and last year we placed 2nd in the 8-man boat B Final and 4th in the double Grand Championship. This year, our goal is to medal in a number of events at the Champs, and to win in the Varsity 8.
5. What is training like?
As a team, we motivate ourselves to practice in a variety of ways. One of these is sheer volume of time spent together at practice. We perform hundreds of tasks every day at practice exactly the same way, over and over. Some of our practices are short and intense bursts of speed; others are long and consistent work we call “steady-state.” (The terminology of the sport, including all our goofy permutations, give us our own language for describing our roles and equipment, which we happily apply to our social and academic lives as well). We break up the harder aspects of the training cycle with “tech” practices on the water and yoga once a week. Built into our practice schedule is a second way of unifying the team: the rituals and traditions we inherit as Carolina rowers. At the end of every practice, we bring hands in and cheer “U-N-C…Dominate!”. On Friday night, we race against one another in small boats, and generally go out to eat together afterward as a team. Every year, we grow out our mustaches for a certain race, quiz the novices at our winter training and host a Christmas cocktail where we watch a movie on Franklin St.
6. What is most challenging as a rower?
As a rower and the president of the team, I feel responsible in some part for both our successes and our failures. If a boat doesn’t place as well as it should in a race, I ask myself whether I’ve done enough to motivate those guys, whether I’ve made sure they all feel included and encouraged in team culture. If equipment is left behind or improperly stored, I ask myself why I didn’t ensure it was properly handled. When a rower quits, I wonder if I could have convinced him to stay. If we win a race, however, my joy is doubled. As a boat and as a team, we prove ourselves with each victory, and as a Tar Heel, that’s what I row for.
Thanks so much to Emmett Gilles! We will be cheering on him and his fellow rowers to meet their ultimate goal of winning a national championship!