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Zoe Tekeian

Dear first year Zoe,

Short Story:
The Charles River bridges act like echo chambers, amplifying sounds above and below. When I was in high school, they also reflected anxiety, self-doubt, and the pressure of feeling like I would never be good enough. My coach at the time reinforced this pattern of negative self-talk, eventually pushing me over my limit. I coxed on the Charles River for the last time in October 2019, halfway through my senior fall season. Four years later, I again took the familiar hairpin turn around the Eliot Bridge past the dock where I used to launch every day. This time, I held my head high and attacked the course with confidence and pride; I returned to my home course in the protective armor of my Virginia uniform.

College rowing programs are notoriously brutal– early mornings, long hours, and tough sessions are an integral part of making fast boats at the end of the year. There are days where getting out of bed feels like the hardest thing in the world and the day seems to stretch on endlessly. It is not enough to visualize the podium or the finish line; the key to managing the toughest days and the longest practices is finding little ways to love the process. Joke with friends, sing along to the music, extend a helping hand to a teammate. Grit is not just about making it through, it’s about reinforcing love for the sport along the way.

Preparing my younger self:
I spent the vast majority of my first year feeling like I was drowning. Between the isolating COVID dorms, my challenging coursework, and navigating an entirely new social scene, rowing was the stablest part of my week. Rowing was predictable–I knew that I would probably make mistakes at practice and that my coaches would probably point it out. I also knew with absolute certainty that the reason I was called out at practice was because I was being challenged to reach my full potential. I came from an environment where my coach told me that not only was I not good enough, I was simply the wrong type of person to be a good coxswain. Even after asking what I could do differently, I was iced out over and over again. When I got to Virginia, I had no idea what to expect, and I was greeted with a coaching staff who taught me how to believe in myself again. It was tough love, but knowing that the adults in charge of me believed in my potential was enough to keep me showing up. Four years later, I don’t get called out nearly as much during practice and I make many fewer mistakes, but I still get the opportunity to learn and grow under the guidance of coaches who help me see what I am capable of and achieve it.

Zoe Tekeian

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