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UCI Men’s Rowing Team Feel the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The UC Irvine Men’s Rowing team is one of many club sports that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. From six practices a week to now zero, the club rowing team is finding it hard to cope with this new way of life off the water. 

Since March, the virus has caused the temporary termination of all club sports on campus in order to obey social distancing guidelines and preserve the safety of UCI students. However, without the ability to practice as one unit, the previously well-oiled engine of a team has begun to rust. 

Andreas Bager, a senior on the varsity men’s rowing team, notes that this pause has created an unfortunate indignation within the team, as some athletes have not returned to Irvine. 

“The only real people who are a part of the team anymore are the people who are coming back to campus or at least [those who] live in the Los Angeles area. The rest it’s hard to really see them coming back,” Bager said.

The beginning of the temporary cease in activities began back in March, when their two main events were cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

“We were supposed to go for a camp and really hone in on our skills while there’s no school, but because COVID-19 happened right at that point, all we could do is to take home our oars and that’s it,” Bager said. 

After the cancellation of their state and national races – the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships in Sacramento and the American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships in Georgia – the possibility of competing on international waters at the Henley Royal Regatta in England vanished.

Photo provided by UCI Rowing

“We were really competitive,” Bager said. “But unfortunately once COVID-19 regulations and all that set in, our dreams really just died right there.”

Currently, the rowing team is not permitted to practice due to the new club sports regulations, which adhere to physical distancing guidelines. That means Bager and his teammates are not able to go out on their boats. Instead, they have been attempting to keep in shape with home rowing machine workouts. However, this practice is not the same. 

“When you’re in a tough situation, it always helps [to know] that you’re fighting for some other guy in front of you or the guy behind you. But when you’re on the erg or the rowing machines, if you will, if you give up, well, you’re not really detrimental to anybody else,” Bager said.

It is apparent that there is no real replacement for being physically on the water. Unlike individual sports, and even some team sports, rowing relies heavily on the aspect of teamwork. As a result of this team mentality, many close relationships are formed among its members. Therefore, it is no surprise that the sudden solitariness has been difficult to cope with for many team members. 

“It’s tough because this is a team sport. It’s one of the most ultimate team sports out there, if you will. You rely on everybody in the boat, and the fact that you can connect with each other really hurts to not have any engagement anymore, you [start to] lose that chemistry,” Bager said. 

It comes at no shock that without the constant team building exercises, members have begun to drift away from the unbreakable bonds they once shared. 

Moreover, the team has found it difficult to keep an optimistic outlook for the possibility of getting back to the boathouse anytime soon. The Club Sports program director, Megan Guilfoyle, has to maintain a tight grip on its teams cooperation with the new COVID-19 safety precautions and for the possibility of starting up season again. That left Bager and his team trying to compromise and be creative with new ideas.

“We have single boats that we could use. We can sanitize the boats and all that. We can do all of these things. Obviously we can’t go out in the eight because we’re too close to each other. We can’t go out in the four, but maybe the pair and maybe the singles,” Bager said.

In addition, the club director has not been able to access club funds as an apparent measure to ensure there is no participation in any events until COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. 

With their funds on hold, Bager feels as if him and his team are just frozen in time. Unable to practice and unable to host club events the rowing team is, like many club sports teams, frustrated about the fate of their season. 

A once extremely tight knit team has fallen into a standstill as a result of the pandemic. Yet, the Men’s Rowing team continues to fight for the ability to participate in the sport they love. For now, the crew is left questioning when they will get back on the water to not just practice, but also race. 

Photo provided by UCI Rowing

Gina Johnson is a Sports Intern for the 2020 Fall Quarter. She can be reached at ginaj@uci.edu.