A whole new sport
Bolmer gives up basketball and finds her passion for rowing
STANFORD, Calif. -- Sarah Bolmer was so committed to attending Stanford, she gave up basketball.
"The academic and social life here just seemed like something I wanted so bad, I could give up competitive sports for it," Bolmer said.
Or so she thought. Considering herself too small (5-foot-9) and slow to play for the powerhouse Cardinal women's team, she decided to give rowing a shot. Four years later, she's a senior co-captain on the nationally ranked Stanford squad and is completing her degree in chemical engineering.
"Being able to compete for Stanford was always a dream of mine," she said. "So I tried out rowing, and it worked out superbly - better than I could have ever imagined. Basically, if you are willing to do the work and commit yourself completely, they can make you an amazing athlete."
Head coach Yasmin Farooq will never forget the first time she saw Bolmer row. What the walk-on lacked in experience and technique, she countered with heart and desire.
"She was kind of like a bull in a china shop," said Farooq, now in her seventh season with the Cardinal. "All she wanted to do was pull really hard. The kid definitely had an engine and desire. I said, `Okay, we're going to work on technical stuff.'"
Few college students willingly arise every week day at 5 a.m., but Bolmer has done it for four years to prepare for early-morning team rows at Redwood Shores. She also stays home on Friday nights to rest up for weekend races.
"I think there is a good bit of sacrifice for it," Bolmer said. "It really is worth it at the end of the day. It's not an easy sport. You lose a lot of girls along the way. But I think the great thing about it is the girls that make it to end are completely committed and have given up a lot to be here every day. We do it more for each other, than anything. I absolutely love the team."
In high school, Bolmer enjoyed doing the dirty work in basketball.
"I liked to be down in the mess, getting the contact and kind of cleaning things up," she said. "I like taking the pain and dishing it out."
Not surprisingly, Bolmer's nickname on the Stanford team is "The Aggressor."
"She has an incredible work ethic," Farooq said. "She is 1,000 percent committed. She's been a great team leader, always has their best interest at heart, and leads by example."
Bolmer spends about four hours a day training. Afternoon sessions on the stationary rowing machine (Ergometer) can be especially tortuous. "Usually a lot of throwing up, some passing out," Bolmer said. "It's a good time." Why punish yourself?
"I think the work hard, play hard phenomena is pretty ubiquitous at Stanford," she said. "The rowing team is no exception to that."
Bolmer enjoys challenges. Her father Mickey is a playwright and her mother Sally works in bio-tech. Neither knew much about rowing until their daughter got involved, but are now big supporters of the sport.
"They're the rowing parents," Bolmer said. "Mom manages the Google Group. Dad will do anything. He has a saying: `Have fun, play smart.' That's really carried me through."
Bolmer has always loved math and science, which helped her pursue a chemical engineering degree when she was a freshman.
She said, "I went to a speech by Channing Roberts, who was the chair, and he said, `If you want to change the world, the best way to do that is chemical engineering. And it's gonna be hard and you're gonna have a tough time with it.' I was sold."
Just like rowing.
"I think I was enough of an egomaniac as a freshman, I was like, `Yea, I can take the hardest major. Most units. Rowing.' It's been tougher than I can let myself believe," she said.
And Bolmer has loved every minute of it.
"It's a lot of units and a lot of classes, but they're incredibly interesting," she said. "The professors are really passionate about what they do. And the information is really neat and so applied in Silicon Valley to real world problems. People are going straight out of college and starting to solve them which I absolutely loved." Bolmer lives in the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority House and was a resident assistant in the dorms last year. Clearly, she likes being active. Her favorite place on campus is Wilbur Field.
"It's not a secret place by any means," Bolmer said. "I love that there's always so many people out there and there's always somebody playing a sport, tanning or chatting. I love the atmosphere.
"At Stanford, you can always find time to be happy at what you're doing. The conversations at Wilbur Field span anywhere from politics to philosophy to organic chemistry to pop culture. It's such an alive part of campus."
Twice named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team, Bolmer helped the Stanford Varsity 8 finish eighth at the NCAA championships last year. The Cardinal is hoping to do even better this year, especially with the return of Anna Dawson and Lindsay Meyer.
"Last year, they were training for the Olympics," Bolmer said. "It really rejuvenates the team. They are literally the most elite people in the sport we're doing. I have to pinch myself once in a while."
Stanford's final home opponent is Cal on May 4, followed by the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAA Championships, the latter May 31-June 2 in Indianapolis.
"Even if I wasn't participating, the fact that you could have amazing student-athletes that could excel at the top of the world and the country ... it blew my mind," Bolmer said. "I appreciate a school that can see the beauty of both."
And Stanford appreciates her.
"The day she stepped on campus and came out for our team ... that was a great day for Stanford rowing," Farooq said.