As the early morning light hits the Schuylkill River, a long, angular boat swooshes across the cobalt blue water. On the boat are over a dozen Penn boys dipping their paddles into the water with strong, powerful strokes. If you look closer, you can see a girl standing at the front of the boat, shouting orders and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. For the past three years, this girl was Sabrina Stanich (C ‘18), the former coxswain of the heavyweight men’s rowing team.
This year, Sabrina ran the New York City marathon in honor of one of her teammates on the rowing team, Henry Rogers, who passed away last year while studying here at Penn.
“It was really shattering for our team,” Sabrina recalls, “I had never gone through a death before, and we’re so young that it’s really hard to try to even begin to wrap your head around that.”
When Sabrina first came to Penn, in the spirit of trying new things, she applied to be coxswain for the rowing team. When she started, she was apprehensive about taking on such a responsibility and assuming a position of leadership in a sport she barely knew about. In fact, she was playfully teased for always bringing a notebook and recording every single thing that the coach mentioned during practice.
“I would study my notes before I came to practice, like on the bus or on the way to the bus--I would get so nervous--and the first time I was gonna get in the boat, the assistant coach was like, ‘Sabrina you can’t bring your notebook!’”
Being on the rowing team isn't easy—they practice several hours per week in the wee hours of the morning.
“I’ve been on sports teams my whole life, but I’ve never been on a team that meets six times a week, multiple times per day, all seasons, all year, competing, traveling, seeing each other at 6 a.m. The amount of collaboration and time you spend together really is unique.”
Because of the significant time investment, Sabrina developed a deep bond with her teammates and became personally invested in the growth of each and every one of the team members, both athletically and personally. On long bus rides throughout the country or over breakfast after practice, she and her rowing teammates would have conversations about topics ranging from gender to politics. One of her favorite memories with Henry was their tradition of going to Corner Bakery Cafe with a few other teammates and ordering heaps of chocolate chip pancakes, then spending hours sharing their experiences at school or perspectives on different issues.
“We [she and Henry] would always tease each other about different things,” Sabrina recalls, “I ran a half marathon last year, and I told him over the summer, ‘We should run a half–marathon together,’ and he was like, ‘Sabrina, I don’t half–ass things. If we’re gonna run a marathon, we have to do a whole marathon, obviously.’”
And so she did. Even though Sabrina works crazy hours in banking, she still made the time to clock in miles before work. She describes how hard it was to wake up in the morning sometimes and have the energy and motivation to keep running despite pain or exhaustion. However, when she thinks about how much she cares about Henry, she says, “I feel like I’m doing it really because of him. I could run forever. 26 miles is nothing.”
While Henry’s death was painful, the support of teammates like him and the experiences Sabrina had within the rowing team helped in developing her leadership skills and providing her with a sense of confidence that continues to benefit her today.
“It’s crazy to me how applicable an experience on a sports team can be to literally everything else you do—like relationships with your friends, relationships with coworkers [and] bosses,” Sabrina said, comparing her experiences with bosses to coaches and coworkers to team members. Additionally, even after graduation, the rowing team is a continuous source of support, despite the fact that many of its former members are scattered all over the country. “You’re really truly friends for life, and you just have these really deep relationships that continue far beyond graduation.”