Photo courtesy of Chelsea Smith
Drake alumna and former rowing standout Chelsea Smith is on a road taken by few Drake athletes and even fewer Drake rowers. She has put in plenty of blood, sweat and tears along the way.
On April 9, 2012, Smith and her lightweight double sculling partner, Michelle Sechser, competed in the Non-Qualified Small Boat Olympic Trials in Chula Vista, Calif., Unfortunately, they did not qualify.
Smith and her double sculling partner, Michelle Sechser, train at the lightweight specialized USRowing Training facility in Oklahoma City, Okla., under coaches Bryan Volpenhein and Kris Korzeneowski.
There, the pair trains to maintain athleticism and rowing technique while keeping their boat weight average under 126 pounds.
Olympic rules stipulate that a single lightweight rower may weigh no more than 130 pounds.
Alongside training, Smith is pursuing a Masters of Science in exercise science at the University of Central Oklahoma. She also works as a graduate assistant rowing coach.
Smith’s proudest athletic accomplishments all stem from her experiences at Drake.
Before graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology in 2010, Smith was a one-of-a-kind Bulldog.
Her Facebook name reads, “Chelsea ‘Bleeds Blue’ Smith,” and she was often a member of the Drake crowd at athletic events as president of what is now Spike’s Army.
“I got the name Chelsea ‘Bleeds Blue’ Smith because I was always really involved on campus,” she said. “There was another girl on campus named Chelsea Smith who would be at events, and a lot of times the wrong one would get tagged.”
At Drake, Smith was committed to athletic involvement but by the end of her crew career, she questioned her desire to continue rowing.
“I initially started rowing because some of my friends were doing it to stay in shape for the summer,” Smith said. “I actually really hated it. I hated carrying the boats, the power and learning the technique but I kept doing it for the summer because I didn’t want to be the only one to quit.”
Smith joined Drake’s crew as a recruit her freshman year, still skeptical about the sport. At the end of her sophomore year, academics and other extracurricular activities led Smith to question continuing with crew.
Returning to the team that fall, not only did Smith want to continue rowing for Drake, she wanted to start training as a lightweight rower for the U.S. National Team.
That same fall, she broke the Des Moines River singles record.
“I am really grateful for all the help I got from Coach D. and Bursch. Not many coaches would say yes to helping a 5-foot-6 and 130 pound colligate rower get to the Olympics, but they were both willing to get me working to my goal,” Smith said.
Drake head rowing coach Charlie DiSilvestro and head strength training Coach Mike Bursch helped Smith establish and implement a training program.
Even with their help, Smith encountered obstacles along the way.
A few tears fell in the summers of 2009 and 2010 when Smith finished third at the USRowing Under-23 Rowing World Champion Trails.
Even after winning two bronze medals at the Pan American Games, Smith felt slightly defeated.
“I have a lot of respect for Chelsea,” DiSilvestro said. “She has put a lot on hold to train for two spots in a boat against rowers that have been rowing a lot longer.”