Rower wants to give back

Victor Nieto

Having been a sports enthusiast and all-around competitive girl in high school, Aimee Chenard came to Sacramento State as a freshman eager for a new competition, which, at the time, was to make sure she didn’t gain the dreaded “freshman 15.”

Her quest quickly led her to the on-campus rowing team and now, five years later, she is a four-year varsity eight crew member going to school on scholarship and competing at the highest level.

Chenard’s past misery of having to red shirt her freshman year due to three bulging-disks in her back has now turned into “a godsend” and hopefully a NCCA Rowing Championship invite, as the “super senior” enters her final year of competition as an experienced veteran.

“I am so thankful to have another year with this program to learn and row,” Chenard said. “The year looks promising. I really think we have a better, more cohesive team.”

The team is fresh off two successive Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association titles, which is like the Big Sky of rowing. And just like last year, the pace of the team is led by the stroke seat that is occupied by Chenard.

“Aimee is very dedicated and very aggressive when it comes to practice and races,” said Krista Hill, a stroke-seat rower on the varsity team. “She’s somebody you look to. She gives it her all and you want to give it your all too.”

That aggressiveness and passionate approach to the sport not only led to her back injury during her freshman year, but it also propelled her to succeed.

“Rehab was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. To get up at 5:15 in the morning and get out there and watch your teammates and friends out on the water while you’re sitting on land was difficult,” Chenard said, but she also said the experience helped give her focus and made her realize how much she enjoyed the sport. “Yeah, I still have those days where I’m sore and beat down, but it’s a heck of a lot better than being on dry land.”

Although Chenard has only been rowing for five years , her hard work and success landed her numerous awards and recognition throughout the collegiate rowing world, including an invite to the prestigious Vesper Rowing Club team in Philadelphia, Pa. There, she trained all summer with the team and competed in the 125th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta where she and her team won four gold medals.

“It was one of my proudest moments,” said Chenard, who plans on returning to the club next summer as a final tuning for her national run.

Even though the spots that go to the national team are all but taken for the upcoming national trails for the Olympics, Chenard hopes to go out there and make a splash.

“I’m pretty small for a rower and I know that it’s going to be a tough road,” said Chenard, who, at a toned 5 feet 6 inches and 160 pounds would be considered one of the smaller competitors among “the beasts” as most of the competitors she would go against would be in the 6 foot plus and 200 pound range.

As to what the future holds after this summer, Chenard isn’t too sure, but she’s just about certain it won’t have anything to do with her current government major.

“Politics are fun,” Chenard said. “I used to be really passionate about it, but now I’m so bored with politics at this point . . . what I do know is that I cannot walk away from this sport.”

Not only has Chenard become an ardent participator in crew, she has become increasingly fond of the Sac State campus itself and hopes to one day come back under different circumstances.

“I love Sacramento, but especially this campus. It has given me many so many opportunities to succeed and I want to give back. Whether it’s donating boats, coaching or just being a good alumna that supports the program,” she said.

The varsity eight rowing team finished its fall schedule last weekend in Seattle and will resume its 2007-08 schedule in the spring where the team hopes to recapture the WIRA title. If the team is able to accomplish that and then place in the top six at the Pac-10 championship, then it would get an automatic berth into the NCAA championships.

Victor Nieto can be reached at [email protected]