July 24, 2019

Former PDS Field Hockey, Lax Player Brennan Finds New Passion with PU Women’s Rowing

SEEING THE LIGHT: Elizabeth Brennan controls the ball during a game in the fall of 2017 as she played in her senior season for the Princeton Day School field hockey team. Matriculating to Princeton University last fall, Brennan has switched from the turf to the water, walking on to the Tiger women’s lightweight rowing program. She competed for the third varsity eight this past spring for Princeton. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Some of Elizabeth Brennan’s fondest memories of her time at Princeton Day School came from playing field hockey and lacrosse.

When Brennan went across town last fall to start her freshman year at Princeton University, she felt a void in her life.

“I missed being on a team,” said Brennan. “I think it is one of the biggest things that I loved about high school, having my teammates and having that connection with them.”

Searching for a new sporting outlet, Brennan went to the school’s athletic exposition last September to survey her options.

“One of the coaches on the men’s lightweight team came up to me and asked asked me ‘how would you like to be on a Division I team?’” said Brennan, whose older sister Sarah, a 2018 Princeton alum, played four seasons for the Tiger field hockey program.

“I kind of laughed and said ‘I don’t think that is going to happen.’ He was like, ‘you could, women’s lightweight rowing is looking to get walk ons.’”

Brennan decided to take his advice and quickly found a home with the women’s lightweight crew program.

“I showed up at the boathouse and I thought, if nothing else, this will be a fun way to meet people,” said Brennan. “I ended up falling in love with it.”

At the outset, Brennan had to learn the ropes with her fellow walk-ons.

“We spent a lot of time inside on the machines and we moved into the tanks, which I hadn’t seen, but I think that is one of the best ways to practice,” said Brennan.

“That was the most helpful thing for me and then they took us out on the boats kind of soon. We would be going like fours, sixes, and then eights finally. At the beginning, it is so difficult to set the boat by eight if you have no idea how to do it. It was all of the walk-ons, it was a blast.”

Finally getting out on Lake Carnegie was a blast for Brennan, highlighted by taking part in the Princeton Chase in late October.

“It was exciting because you have practiced so much on the inside on the machines and stuff so finally getting out in the boats, it is ‘OK, this is why we do that,’” said Brennan.

“I think the most exciting thing was competing in the Chase in the fall. It is a five-kilometer race instead of a two-kilometer, which was definitely different. It was sustained pace instead of eight minutes all out in the 2k. You don’t all go side by side, you go one by one and it is based off the times. It was exciting to compete in a boat. I was in an eight.”

That experience sealed the deal for Brennan. “That is when I got a taste of it and once you compete, you get hooked,” said Brennan.

“It just this level of intensity when you pick up the boat and you have the energy and the whole boat is doing as much as they can.”

Brennan needed a lot of energy to get through arduous winter training sessions, often referred to by rowers as the “pain cave.”

“It was a big jump from being out on the boat, the big thing was doing 2 x 20 minutes on the ERG (ergometer),” explained Brennan.

“We usually do the tank on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Wednesday is a heavy fitness day; it is is all about speed testing with 1Ks, 2Ks, 3Ks. We do two lift days a week and usually a couple of steady state days.”

Getting back out on the water this spring, Brennan rowed for the Tiger third varsity eight.

“I competed in a couple of races and then Eastern Sprints, that was huge,” said Brennan.

“The top boat won that and then we got second in team points. My boat beat the Radcliffe boat in that race. It is a new level of intensity combined with such composure and focus. It all goes to building up to this one goal to win team points.”

This summer, Brennan is looking to build on the progress she made in her first season of rowing.

“We have some lifts that the Princeton coaches sent out, we have things we can be doing to keep up our fitness levels and build on last season,” said Brennan, who is spending six weeks in China this summer.

“As someone who played field hockey and lacrosse, I miss doing stuff on land. I have been doing my old field hockey fitness packet because that really seems to get me in shape. As a walk-on, I don’t have any preconceived notions about what I should be able to do. I am enjoying seeing how good I can get and how well I can do my splits.”

But no matter how good Brennan becomes, what is most enjoyable about rowing for her is the bond she has forged with her teammates.

“The people have been so instrumental to my life at college that I can’t imagine not being on crew and having those people with me,” said Brennan.

“They are some of the most amazing people that I have met at school. I think that is why I stayed, because I immediately became close with a lot of the walk-ons. They have become some of my best friends; being so close has made it so much better.”