Rowing Her Way to the Olympics

Amy Clay Ives BA ’01 had never touched an oar until she took up rowing in her first year at Lewis & Clark.

Oars poised for the pinnacle moment of her rowing career, Amy Clay Ives (at far left in photo) waited expectantly at the starting line at Beijing’s Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park on August 17. With the Women’s Final Sculling Quads mere seconds away, waves of adrenaline surged through her body.

“It’s a feeling like I’ve never had before and can’t imagine ever having again,” says Ives, a member of the Australian rowing team, which finished the competition sixth in the world. “Excitement heightened my senses and mingled with a deep sense of knowing and inner calm.”

Rowers engage in two main styles of rowing: sweep rowing and sculling. In sweep rowing, each rower plies one oar, using both hands. It’s usually done in pairs, fours, and eights. In sculling, each rower works two oars, one with each hand. It’s most often done in singles, doubles, and quads.

Ives had never touched an oar until she took up rowing in her first year at Lewis & Clark. An injury had previously ended her 12-year gymnastics career, so she was seeking an outlet for her athletic talents. At the college she participated in sweep rowing in four- and eight-person teams while pursuing an English major.

“I’d heard that rowing was a sport you could pick up at a later age–and one where my height would give me an advantage,” she says. Ives is five feet nine inches tall.

During Ives’ first year as a rower, Lewis & Clark’s coach was Hilary Gehman, who went on to compete in the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Summer Games. “She was my inspiration for wanting to someday go to the Olympics,” says Ives.

Two years after graduation, Ives moved to Sydney, Australia, and joined a competitive rowing club. “I started sculling using two oars in a single scull,” she says. “A single is much heavier than rowing an eight. But I slowly got used to it and grew stronger.”

Under the guidance of Nick Garratt, a renowned Australian coach with an impressive international and Olympic coaching history, Ives took the leap from intermediate to elite-level rowing.

In the months leading up to the Beijing games, she and her teammates trained every day except Sunday: two intense rowing sessions in the morning, topped off by weight training or 90 minutes of cross training–biking or running–in the afternoon.

Ives held the “stroke” seat, closest to the bow. With her back to her teammates, she was primarily responsible for setting up and maintaining a good rhythm.

“Rowing is the ultimate team sport,” she says. “It’s extremely physical and requires endless hours of endurance training to prepare for a six- or seven-minute race that pushes you to your absolute limits. However, I find these limits are often more mental than physical.”

On a purely aesthetic level, Ives loves the movement of rowing.

“It’s fluid and explosive all in one stroke,” she says. “And the natural beauty we observe out on the water is breathtaking.”

Now that the rigors of the Olympics are behind her, Ives plans to take a few months off from rowing. “Regardless of whether I continue to row internationally, I will stick with the sport for fun and exercise,” says Ives. “I hope it’s something I’ll do for many years to come.”

–by Pattie Pace