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May 31, 2016 10:30 AM

Toby Smith talks a little tennis with Janelle Lee, and a whole lot of rowing


Janelle_head_shotAlbuquerque’s Janelle Lee started playing tennis the summer after she finished fifth grade.  She went to camps run by Dick Johnson and then helped out at those camps. Later, she played Junior Team Tennis and middle school tennis for Desert Ridge.  At La Cueva High School, she joined the girls jayvee team as a freshman, and went on to compete on the varsity for the next three years.  In her senior year, 2015, she was captain of the Lady Bears, who finished runner-up in the state tournament to Albuquerque High.  She was part of a doubles team that fell in a heartbreakingly close championship match to the Lady Bulldogs.
Did you consider college tennis?
I was contacted by some Division 2 and 3 schools.  Most of them were smaller liberal arts schools that didn’t have a major in mechanical engineering, which I wanted.
Why did you choose the University of Kansas?
It had a mechanical engineering and bio engineering track.  Distance and cost also influenced me.
OK, if you weren’t going to play tennis for Kansas, how did rowing for KU happen?
Early last fall my roommate and I were walking around the campus and there was a new-student fair going on. Someone called out to us, “Hey, you two should try out for rowing.” We were curious and we decided to see what that was about. We went to a meeting, toured the boat house and met some of the coaches.
Janelle_rowingHow much did you know about rowing?
[Laughs.]  I had never rowed a boat of any kind.  I had never watched a rowing race.  
Did you have a tryout?
Yes. They wanted to see how athletic you were.  They were looking for athletes and people like that and then they would teach you.
Is there a lake close by?  Is that where rowing takes place?
No, we row on the Kansas River, about five minutes from campus. Much of the tryout was not being in a boat.  It was seeing how fit you were.  We were tested on the ERG, the indoor rowing machine that tells you how much work you’ve done. The coaches were paying particular attention to your body position.
I’m guessing that being tall helps in rowing.
That’s why they had called out to that day at the fair. I’m five feet, 10 inches. I found out that rowing is more about the legs and not about the arms and shoulders, as people might think.
So eventually you got into a boat.  
Yes, we got in the water in October.  For tryouts, they put me in a four person boat, because it’s more steady.  My first race I raced in an eight-person boat.  The tryouts took about a week or longer.  About 60 girls in all made the team.
How do they decide who rows in what boat?
There’s a ladder in rowing, much like in tennis.  I’ve been in a novice boat.  I raced against other girls who were like me for the most part.   In the fall we did weight lifting sessions twice a work.  We also did runs up the steps of the football stadium and did hill sprints.
Did you ever think of quitting?
There were definitely moments when I wondered why I was doing it.  Our training was so intense.  It got so hard. During a workout it was definitely challenging physically and mentally. But when you finish, it’s a real good feeling of accomplishment.
Rowing is a spring sport, right?
In the spring you’re on the water a lot.  In-season, it’s 20 hours a week.  We have two practices a day. In the fall, it’s a cut-down schedule.  
How hard was doing all that rowing and managing your academics?
It got difficult, but rowing taught me how to prioritize my time.  If I didn’t have rowing, I think I wouldn’t be as organized.  You need extracurricular activities to keep you busy.  If you have too much free time, I think you procrastinate.  Rowing keeps you on track.
What kind of grades did you make this year?
I took 15 hours each semester.  I got one B and the rest A’s.
Do you miss tennis?
I played occasionally with friends in college.  I do miss the competitive side of tennis.  I plan to play some this summer with my younger brother.  I think he’ll beat me, but once upon a time I beat him. (Author’s Note: Julian Lee was a standout freshman this year for the 6A state champion La Cueva Bears.)

By the way, have you read The Boys in the Boat, the best-selling book about rowing? It’s a terrific story.
I haven’t read it, but it’s on my desk at home I’ll get to it this summer for sure.
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