Drake graduate Chelsea Smith has made a name for herself not only in the U.S. women’s rowing community, but internationally as well. Last week, Smith won two bronze medals at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
After qualifying for the Pan American Games in August, Smith and her rowing partner, Michelle Sechser, began preparing for Mexico. Going into the games, Smith and Sechser had a goal to simply do their best and hopefully earn medal. The main concern was that neither Smith nor Sechser had ever raced internationally. The opposing teams were also a concern. Nearly all of the competitors at the Pan American Games had previous experience in the Olympics or other Pan American events.
“It was kind of crazy because I’d never been out of the country,” Smith said. “It was like going to a mini Olympics. It was really like a ‘whoa’ type of experience. It was a big step for me.”
After graduating from Drake in 2010, Smith went on to the Oklahoma City National High Performance Center to continue rowing and training. The center has state-of-the-art training facilities, including a high altitude chamber to adapt to the high altitude in Guadalajara.
Smith competed in the lightweight double sculls as well as the quadruple sculls. A few days prior to each race, the competitors participated in a preliminary race for lane assignments. This is a trial race with the purpose of selecting placement for the actual race. Smith and Sechser finished first in the trial run.
“We were down in the beginning of the race for lanes, and it was the first time we had been down at the start,” Smith said. “We had to literally use our whole base to walk through the other boats. Then we finally got to first. We really had to go, we couldn’t just sit there.”
The actual double sculls race was extremely tight. According to Smith, she and Sechser were very close to the gold medal-winning boat, but everyone was very close the entire time.
“For that race, it was literally just like chasing someone the whole time, and someone else was chasing you,” Smith said.
Smith and Sechser finished the race with a time of 7 minutes, 18:88 seconds, good enough for the bronze medal. They were preceded by Cuba in second place with a time of 7:17:77, and Mexico in first place, taking the gold with a time of 7:16:04.
Smith also walked away with a bronze medal in the women’s quadruple sculls, timing out at 6:39:36.
“For us to get a bronze in the quad, we were just really excited,” Smith said. “We’d never rowed with the people we did that with. We just threw it together when we got there.”
Medaling at the Pan American Games is beneficial for Smith in terms of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. The Olympic qualifier isn’t until May. Along with the constant motivation Smith received from friends and family, putting herself on the Olympic map made winning the medals even more meaningful.
“Getting the medal was really a one-of-a-kind experience,” Smith said. “When I got to wear my Drake shirt and wore my medals with it, I thought, ‘Four years ago I was wearing this shirt in college, and now I get to wear it with my medals.’ It’s little moments like that that make it so worth everything.”