Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 22
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of PU crew/Tom Nowak)

MEDAL HAUL: Princeton University women’s lightweight rower Lauren Sykora clutches her gold medal after the Tigers won the Eastern Sprints earlier this month. This weekend, senior co-captain Sykora will be looking to culminate a dream season as the top-ranked and undefeated Tigers go after another gold medal at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta in Cooper River in Cherry Hill.

Senior Standout Sykora Pushing Hard to the End As No 1 PU Women’s Lightweights Head to IRAs

Bill Alden

For Lauren Sykora, the idea of getting involved in rowing came when she was in grade school.

“When I was six or seven year old, we had a babysitter who had rowed at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart and I thought she was really cool,” recalled Sykora, a native of Lake Forest, Ill.

Sykora followed in her babysitter’s footsteps years later when she was a freshman at the same school.

“I ended up going to Woodlands and rowing was one of the spring sports and I decided to try it,” said Sykora. “I really liked it; I liked the team aspect.”

Sykora joined the Princeton University women’s lightweight rowing team in 2007 and has emerged as a star and co-captain.

This weekend, the senior will look to help the first varsity boat culminate a dream season as the undefeated and top-ranked Tigers go for a national title at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) regatta in Cooper River in Cherry Hill.

While there is clearly a bull’s eye on Princeton at the IRAs, Sykora isn’t feeling extra pressure.

“I’m not worried about what the others are thinking; I am thinking about what I can do to make our boat faster,” said Sykora.

“The focus is on everyone in the boat doing well; we are super excited that we are racing. We are not looking at it as pressure but as an opportunity. We need to race like we can. It is something we have been working toward for 12 months and really eight years for me.”

It didn’t take long for Sykora, after arriving at Princeton, to enjoy racing for the Tigers. “I was on varsity at the beginning of the spring my freshman year and then for nationals,” said Sykora.

“Paul [Princeton head coach Paul Rassam] did a great job of encouraging me and helping me to get better. Seeing the excitement of the upperclassmen and how hard they worked motivated me to work out harder.”

As a sophomore, Sykora was excited to help Princeton take second in the Eastern Sprints but learned a valuable lesson when the Tigers faded to sixth at the IRA regatta.

“I knew that were pumped up over the Sprints and then there was a drop-off in the IRAs,” said Sykora.

“That motivated us, we saw what a difference those three weeks could make. We had to look at the season as a whole, you need to work all year for those two races.”

Sykora assumed a greater responsibility in motivating the team when she was named as a co-captain for her junior season.

“I was very honored and excited; seeing how we improved from freshman to sophomore year and from sophomores to juniors and to have a role in leading the rest of the rowers,” said Sykora, who was recently named as one of four 2011 winners of the Art Lane Award which honors selfless contribution to sport and society by a Princeton undergraduate athlete.

“I wanted to instill that same passion. I looked up to the captains when I was a freshman and a sophomore and I wanted to be a good role model.”

Last spring, Princeton showed passion to the end as it placed second at the Easterns and then took third at the IRAs.

“Just seeing the strength we had at the end of the year and that we didn’t have many seniors told us we could do this,” said Sykora, reflecting on the season. “This is possible; we can make this a reality.”

This past March, the Tigers showed what could be possible in 2011 as they went out to California for the Pac 10 Invitational and cruised past defending Eastern Sprints champion Wisconsin and reigning national champ Stanford.

“We had lost to Wisconsin and Stanford a bunch of times; to go out and beat them was incredible,” said Sykora. “It was something we had been working towards for a long time.”

Princeton kept working well all spring as it went undefeated in regular season regattas and then dethroned Wisconsin as Eastern Sprints champion.

“That was awesome, incredible; it was great to see all the hard work pay off,” added Sykora, referring to the win at the Eastern Sprints which saw the Tigers produce a time of 6:30.39 in the grand final, well ahead of the 6:34.14 posted by runner-up Wisconsin.

“It was anybody’s race early on; all the boats were going for it. We pulled as a unit; it was nine people who all wanted the same thing.”

In Sykora’s view, that all-for-one, one-for-all attitude has been displayed on a daily basis this spring.

“There is consistency; you go down there everyday and everyone wants to do their best,” said Sykora, who has been rowing in the four seat this spring. “Everyone is pushing hard. If you are distracted, it will stand out and you don’t want to be the odd one out.”

In reflecting on the impact of her crew experience, Sykora realizes that emulating her babysitter has turned out to have more benefits than she could have imagined.

“It has made me able to relax under pressure; some things are out of my control and some things I can control,” added Sykora, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major who will be working for Exelon after graduation.

“It is about getting better as you work for the whole team; knowing that doing the best you can will pay off.”

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