Grappling to the top
Trinity (Conn.) coxswain Schoch has taken odd road to Indy
INDIANAPOLIS -- After training in gymnastics for most of her childhood, Gwen Schoch of Trinity (Conn.) made an interesting detour before coxing the Bantam’s second varsity eight boat in the Division III Rowing Championships on Friday.
Not only did she start running cross country after she stopped gymnastics her freshman year of high school, but she also began competing for the men’s wrestling team.
“I have no field sense and don’t know what to do with a ball, but wrestling is actually similar to gymnastics,” Schoch said. “It’s all about kinesthetic sense, being aware of your body and overall strength.”
Schoch’s older brother wrestled, so she was familiar with the sport and the physical challenge it presented and decided to give it a shot.
“It started out as a joke,” Schoch said, “but I decided I was actually going to do it and do it well.”
She trained with the men and traveled with them to meets on the off chance the other team had a girl for her to wrestle. Despite weighing in at 105 pounds and standing 5 feet 2 inches, Schoch managed to defeat much bigger girls that had 40- or 50-pound advantages on her.
During her junior year, a new rule was passed that allowed women to wrestle against men at the high-school level. Despite any perceived disadvantage, to Schoch, she had the upper hand in this arrangement.
“Honestly, an 18-year-old girl has more muscle mass than a prepubescent 14-year-old boy,” she said.
Even though she could handle the boys, they couldn’t always handle her. Schoch sometimes got the victory because a male competitor would refuse to face her and forfeit.
Her wrestling career unfortunately came to an end when she picked up a running injury her junior year of high school and had to have her right toe joint reconstructed. Since she couldn’t put too much pressure on her foot, her friends suggested coxing as an alternative.
“I like rowing and coxing because it’s unique from other spots. You have to be able to move together. You yourself have to unlock all the power inside you in a way that’s conducive to bringing out the power in everyone else. Plus, it’s fun to go fast.”
Her success as a coxswain and the challenge it presented led her to continue it at the collegiate level for Trinity.
“She’s physically one of the hardest-working coxswains I’ve had,” Trinity head coach Wesley Ng said. “She works out as hard as [the rowers] do. She’s always physically pushing herself and her boat. And her athletic experience helps her relate to her rowers. They see her as an extension of themselves instead of an outside force directing them.”
Filling this specific role in a team scenario was an adjustment compared to Schoch’s past experience in more individual sports.
“My biggest learning curve was figuring out what the specific people in your boat need, even if they don’t know what that is, and how you can deliver that to get their best performance.”
Schoch’s unique athletic background has contributed to her success in the stern at Trinity.
“A lot of my experience and skills transfer to coxing,” Schoch said. “In wrestling, you have to be aware of weight as well as be physiologically prepared. You also have to read your opponents and react and as a cox, that’s really important -– to react to technical changes and the opponent’s race strategy.”
Schoch and her 2V8 reacted well Friday, despite pouring rain and lightning delays. The boat scored a first-place finish in its early morning heat ahead of four-time national runner-up Bates in 7 minutes, 18.341 seconds.
“I think our success stems from the fact that we’re open to learn and change. There are a lot of strong girls in my boat, but no one lets their ego get in the way. They’ll listen to me and make changes to do what it takes to win.”
Thankfully for the Bantams, the championships won’t be Schoch’s last time to shine and bring out the best of her boat.
“I’m glad she’s only a junior and I get to work with her another year,” Ng said. “She’s organized and prepared and knows it’s not just about her boat but the success and speed of the team -- and she’s only going to get better next year.”