Western Washington University rowing champ maps her future
August 18, 2009
By Matthew Thompson
“Once a rower, always a rower,” NCAA Division II champion Hilary Gastwirth says when asked about her future.
At 22, Gastwirth possesses more experience than most of her peers, taking pride and ownership in winning three individual NCAA titles and was a member of the four-time NCAA II championship team.
It all began when she was 15. One day, she accompanied her mom to watch her cousin Casey Clingan compete on Lake Washington with the University of Washington crew team. During the competition, her uncle, Wes Clingan, a member of the 1972 and 1973 championship UW row teams, turned to her and said that she had the right build for the sport and should consider looking into it.
One call to the Sammamish Rowing Association was all she needed. She bid farewell to middle school basketball and never looked back.“I started that summer, and loved it,” she said.
She admitted that while attending Liberty High School, school came easy, with a practice schedule from 3:30-5 or 6:30 p.m. Attending Western Washington University presented constructive challenges with her practice schedule moving to 5-7 a.m. with an 8 a.m. class often following.
“College is a lot more intense with the amount of work level and then the early practices,” Gastwirth acknowledged.
Practices are Monday through Friday, combined with a three-hour Saturday practice that also includes individual practice time in the afternoon. While the afternoon practice was not necessarily required, “to get anywhere and move ahead” you need to practice, she said.
Western Washington ranks second nationally in the US Rowing/Collegiate Rowing coaches association NCAA II poll. Western set an extraordinary accomplishment by winning its fourth straight national title.
Gastwirth belongs to the varsity four-crew team, helping drive the boat by following the stroke. The stroke sets the rhythm for the other members on the boat with Gastwirth driving the “engine.” Coach John Fuchs, who just completed his 11th year as the women’s coach, followed his team to Camden, N.J., to compete in the championship where they captured the title. This was Gastwirth’s final run after four years at Western.
“You have to be dedicated to get up every day for four years,” Fuchs said of Gastwirth.
He added that she is a hard worker, and that everyone can get along with her, a vital trait to own when rowing as a team.
Gastwirth is majoring in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of motion with human anatomy. She plans to finish her bachelor’s degree, with an emphasis on pre-health care studies, in the next year. In the next five years, her goal is to complete additional requirements and become a registered nurse.
What rowing and sports in general have taught her is to be more aware of her strength physically and mentally. This has increased her confidence, which she said she hopes will prepare her for real life.
“You have to roll with the punches,” she said, quoting her dad, Allan, recognizing that not everything can go your way, but you have to be prepared to accept what life has ahead.
Throughout her rowing career, Gastwirth acknowledged that her biggest motivator and influence has been her parents.
“Knowing that my parents have come to every race, I love doing something that they love to see me do, because it made me happy,” she said.
The support helped her build confidence in something she could call her own. With each early morning, most of the year before sunrise, Gastwirth said it gave her an optimistic outlook on life knowing that she has worked hard at what she loves.
Rowing is the ultimate team sport, she said: “There are no timeouts and there are no breaks. If someone screws up, the team has to regain composure.”
Teamwork, she argued, shows how to be dedicated with every team member there for one another’s success.
“Hilary has been an outstanding representative, not only for the sport of rowing, but more importantly, for our athletics program as a whole at Western,” said Paul Madison, sports information director for WWU. “With her work ethic and fun personality, she is going to do wonderful things in her life and chosen profession.”
Gastwirth will now focus on her studies. In respect to rowing, the best advice she said she has received is to “do it for myself, look at why I love the sport and work hard, even if things aren’t perfect.
“Life is going to throw you stuff all the time that you don’t necessarily know how to handle, or don’t want to handle, but you have to find the positive in it,” she said.
Matthew Thompson is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.