Ramstead pushes limit for WWU
By ALEX BIGELOW, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD, May 16, 2014
Lauren Ramstead flirts with the fine line rowing presents.
On one hand, 2,000 meters is an endurance race. On another, it's a sprint, and the 20-year-old senior on Western Washington University's women's rowing team has sought the happy median between the two.
But if the 6-foot-tall senior from Everson were to err with one more than another, she'd rather deplete her body of every ounce of strength it has.
"We want that last stroke to be whatever you have. You don't want to get to the end of the race and feel like you had more to give," Ramstead said in a phone interview. "Is your gas can going empty? It's all for the best."
Ramstead embarks on her final regular-season regatta when the No. 3-ranked Vikings participate in the Central Sprints on Saturday, May 17, on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
WWU is fighting for a 13th consecutive berth into the NCAA national championships dating back to 2002, winning seven titles in the process. The NCAA championships will be held May 30-June 1 at the Eagle Creek Reservoir in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the selections will be announced Monday, May 19.
Ramstead's athletic endeavors did not, up until three years ago, include rowing. As a freshman at Creighton University, the rowing coach sent out a campus-wide email seeking newcomers. She was intrigued, entertaining the idea of the new sport and turning out for the team knowing nobody would be cut despite their respective lack of experience.
Too many people would quit after enduring the early-morning practices, she said, so there was no need to trim down the teams before attrition took its toll.
Quickly, her athletic frame and dedicated demeanor propelled her through the ranks, eventually leading to a spot on the Varsity Eight boat in the BlueJays' final regatta.
"It was pretty nerve racking for a freshman," she said. "Having a freshman in the boat is actually a good thing. They aren't thinking about anything - just going for it. I remember not having a clue as to what rowing was about."
Her career at Creighton, though, would be short-lived given the dwindling health of her father, Erik Ramstead, who passed away in January 2013, from cancer. She moved back to be by his side, although he never got the opportunity to see her race for WWU.
"I knew he was getting sicker, and he didn't say he was, but I had that sense," she said. "I would have liked him to see how I changed from Creighton to Western. I think having gone through that, I am a much better individual athlete and rower. It's been to my benefit."
There was no question to WWU coach John Fuchs that Ramstead was a gifted athlete. She made that impression early on, prompting him to put her in the No. 6 seat on the Vikings' nationally ranked Varsity Eight boat.
"She was just out-pulling enough people to get her spot," Fuchs said in a phone interview. "Just her will ... and her commitment to the team - she just doesn't miss any workouts or any practices."
It was a transition of sorts for her coming from a program that by all accounts didn't have the same national championship level of expectations that Fuchs had created at WWU.
The morning practices were more rigorous, she said, not to mention earlier, but it fit her well. It helped her forge relationships with teammates that were at one point foreign to her.
"The caliber of workouts was bumped up a level. It really made me better," she said. "We all push so hard, and it's nice to have that trust and respect for everyone, especially in my boat. Everybody is pulling their hardest."
With such a culture, it's no wonder she fit in so quickly, Fuchs said, only helping WWU chances of winning an eighth national title since 2002.
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