A record is set in the thinking woman's sport

Rower earns degree, then works her way to a spot in the books

Fitness Profile

Health & Fitness

July 25, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff

Rowers tend to think of themselves as the scholars and intellectuals of the sports world.

They trace their lineage to ancient Greece and Renaissance Venice. Modern competitive rowing began in 1829 with the races between Oxford and Cambridge universities. The first intercollegiate athletic competition of any kind in America was the Yale and Harvard race of 1852.

"Rowers are adventurous, disciplined, competitive, yet sophisticated individuals who love the outdoors," say the sponsors of the Thomas Eakins Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia, a center of American rowing. "Over 90 per cent of rowers are college graduates and 60 percent hold advanced degrees," says the program of the Head of the Schuylkill races.

Amanda Miracle, 24, who rows with Baltimore and Annapolis rowing clubs, fits that profile precisely.

She's just earned her master's degree in history from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with a 4.0 grade-point average; she's going to Bowling Green State University in Ohio this fall for her doctorate -- and earlier this year she established the world endurance record in the category of heavyweight women for the longest continual row on a rowing machine: 25 hours and 170,425 meters.

"It was a long time!" she exclaims. "I was bully tired."

Water and Gatorade

She set her record on a Concept 2 "erg," an ergometer rowing machine. Concept 2, of Morrisville, Vt., is perhaps the leading maker of American ergs, and the company certifies records like Miracle's.

The erg has a big flywheel up front, simulated oar handles and a seat that slides back and forth on an aluminum monorail. It looks like a cross between a spinning wheel and a medieval torture device.

"It simulates pretty closely the action of rowing," Miracle says. "And it's really what allows you to see what you're doing in terms of power and speed."

The Concept 2 standard for endurance rowing allowed her just 10 minutes an hour "to go to the bathroom or whatever."

"I had people hand me things like food. I had this pretty thorough schedule of things to eat and drink," she says. "I alternated between water and Gatorade and Pedialyte and bananas," she says, "trying to get a balance in the electrolytes in the water and potassium."

Pedialyte, an electrolyte maintenance solution, prevents dehydration in infants when they have diarrhea. Athletes -- runners, football players and rowers -- use it to retain fluids and the minerals they contain.

"And I ate a lot of white rice," she says. "Because it's pretty easy on your stomach."

Rice is a little tricky, though, when rowing. Her helpers would hold a spoonful in front of her mouth.

"I was getting it all over the place. I would sort of attack it like a shark. The bananas were held out, and I would eat that in the same way."

Rowing for a short time

She rowed to her record in the gym in the Retriever Activities Center at UMBC on Jan. 17-18. Evan Rea, also a graduate student in history, and Renee Foard, a chemist who teaches novice rowers at the Baltimore Rowing Center, coached her.

Miracle's only been rowing since she joined the UMBC rowing club during spring break last year.

"Partly because I needed an outlet," she says. "An academic program for a master's in history is really intense. I was beginning my thesis. I was doing all the reading for it. I needed something just as demanding physically to balance the academic."

And all her life people kept telling her she was not athletic.

"There was just a part of me that goes: 'Yes, I am!' You want to prove it to yourself that you can. 'Yes, I can!' "

Because she felt as though she was behind everyone else on the team -- "People start generally when they're 18 and freshmen in college. I didn't start until my academic career at UMBC was almost finished" -- she thrust herself into a rigorous schedule of workouts last summer with both the UMBC club and the Annapolis Rowing Club.

UMBC rows out of the Baltimore Rowing Center on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. The ARC rows on the Severn. Miracle lives in Pasadena, about midway between them.

Rigorous schedule

"I would go 5 to 7 in the morning with ARC and then come here in the evening from 6 to 8," she says at the Baltimore center. "I would do two practices a day, and I would get in extra practice on the erg when I could. So some days I would [row] six hours a day."

Rea would sometimes slow her down and tell her to take the day off.

"Amanda completely fell into it," he says, "and just dedicated herself to it. Some people have the gift of simple persistence. They just go ahead and do it."

That pretty much describes Miracle.

"I went from being in really bad physical condition into pretty good physical shape."

She's moderately tall, lithe, cheerful and good-humored.

"It's a full, complete body workout," she says." You work your arms, your back. You work your legs. It's a good kind of tired when you're done."

In December, she did a 100-kilometer row on the erg to train for her record attempt.

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