(L-R) Erin Reelick, Molly Bruggeman, Erin Boxberger and Madeleine Wanamaker compete in the women's four at the 2018 World Rowing Championships on Sept. 15, 2018 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria..
All four rowers have large personalities, and each of them has strong opinions about the best ways to make a boat glide through the water.
If Erin Boxberger, Molly Bruggeman, Erin Reelick and Madeleine Wanamaker were competing in a one-person boat, they’d be free to act on their own. They wouldn’t have to take commands from another person.
However, as members of the U.S. women’s four rowing team, only one of them can sit in the bow, or front, seat. Wanamaker occupies that seat, and Boxberger, Bruggeman and Reelick help power the boat from their positions alongside her.
“We’re all kind of used to the bow seat mentality, I would say, where you are telling people what to do,” Bruggeman said, laughing. “It’s funny because that’s only one or two people’s job, so we had to have our moments where we could say what we were thinking.
“But we also had to have moments where we know how to shut up.”
Since being selected for the women’s four that would compete at the 2018 World Rowing Championships, Boxberger, Bruggeman, Reelick and Wanamaker have had only a few months to accept their new roles and find their rhythm. They formed the ultimate team on the fly.
The Americans finished more than a second faster than a pair of strong teams from Australia and Russia.
It was an encouraging sign as Team USA prepares for women’s four to return as an Olympic event for the first time in 28 years at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“What we were really working on in the first few weeks (of training) was everyone trying to figure out what they can do in their seat to make the boat go real fast,” Reelick said. “That made it a little harder for us to jell initially.
“It was kind of more (a scenario in which) everyone is working on their own thing and then it came together in the end.”
Before this summer the four rowers had experience competing together — just not as teammates in one boat.
Bruggeman and Reelick finished fourth in the women’s pair at World Rowing Cup III in July in Lucerne, Switzerland. Meanwhile, Boxberger and Wanamaker were teammates on a women’s four boat that also took fourth.
However, once they came together this summer, Bruggeman had to figure out how to follow her new teammates and pull hard from her No. 3 seat.
At the same time, Reelick moved from her usual spot in the bow seat to the stroke seat — where she’s more involved in steering. She was forced to adjust.
Reelick hadn’t rowed from the stroke seat since she starred at Princeton a few years ago.
“I think that regardless of personality all four of us can get into a boat and get along with the other people and do what we need to do to make the boat move,” Reelick said.
As expected, the foursome experienced some initial growing pains while training at the USRowing headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey. There have been some frustrating times on the water over the past few months.
However, as they became more comfortable with each other, Reelick sensed the team was starting to click during a practice a few weeks before the start of the world championships.
The Americans then looked strong while winning their heat in Bulgaria.
“It was awesome because we just wanted to have a good first race,” Bruggeman said. “But it was great that we won, and it just set us up to have higher and higher expectations as the regatta went on.”
After each race, the foursome made adjustments to help the boat post faster times. The team worked on getting off to a better start and having a “cleaner” second 500 meters of the race.
“We just went out there with that mindset that we have to do this as a four and we’re going to do it together, and it’s going to be the most aggressive thing we’ve ever done and then we’re going to win,” Bruggeman said.
Boxberger, Bruggeman, Reelick and Wanamaker celebrated their world title by holding an American flag as they draped their arms around each other.
Along with their excitement, they felt a sense of relief. Of course, it was short-lived.
“We all got super excited, but then it was ‘OK, remember this is 2018. Our goal is 2020,’” Reelick said. “Celebrate now and be happy, but also just look forward and keep an eye on the real goal, the real prize in two years.”