Where are they now: Colette Lucas-Conwell

Chloe Fishman, Author

Placed fourth in the Women’s Lightweight Eight at the 2013 USRowing Youth Nationals. Won a bronze medal in the Women’s Lightweight Eight at the 2013 Southwest Regionals. Came in second in Men’s Junior B8+ at the 2011 USRowing Club Nationals. Received AP Scholar and Distinguished Scholar awards.

Colette Lucas-Conwell, Palo Alto High School Class of 2013, moved to the United States from France when she was 10 years old. Three years later, she began coxing at Norcal Crew and concluded her junior career coxing for Los Gatos Rowing Club. Her senior year, she was recruited by the University of Virginia to be a coxswain on its prestigious team.

The UVA team competes in Division 1 and is ranked as the No. 5 women’s rowing program in the country on NCAA.com. The team finished a successful fall season, claiming the title of Top Collegiate Boat in the Championship Eights category at the Head of the Charles Regatta. UVA’s Varsity Eight scored a first place win at the Princeton Chase. The team also won the Varsity Eight and Varsity Four events at the Rivanna Romp regatta.

Colette Lucas-Conwell coxed a 4+ her senior year at Los Gatos Rowing Club on Lexington Reservoir. Photo by Max Moyer.
Colette Lucas-Conwell coxed a 4+ her senior year at Los Gatos Rowing Club on Lexington Reservoir. Photo by Max Moyer.

With strong achievements in the fall, the team is gearing up for the spring season with its first official race scheduled for mid-March. The Paly Voice caught up with Lucas-Conwell to find out more about her rowing experiences.

The Paly Voice: How has your freshman experience been so far? Is there anything that surprised you about college?

Colette Lucas-Conwell: My freshman experience has been awesome so far. I’ve met so many fascinating people and done and seen so many things around Charlottesville. I seriously walk around with a smile on my face thinking about how lucky I am to be at such a great school. The thing that most surprised me about college was how hard it is to be independent. Everyone goes into college going “woohoo freedom!” but don’t realize how hard it is to manage your time. It took me months to figure out simple things like when to eat lunch between class or just getting some sleep.

TPV: Why did you start coxing?

CLC: It took me a while to find a sport I liked. I failed terribly at basketball and swimming and gave up on ballet, horseback riding and tennis when I got here from France. My older sister rowed in high school and thought that I would be perfect as a coxswain. So I went to practice one day, and I’ve loved it since then.

TPV: How is your team’s season going so far?

CLC: Our season so far is outstanding. We did really well in the fall and are ranked No. 1 going into the spring. There’s definitely a lot of pressure coming from the older girls who have already won an NCAA [title] and the coaches. I can’t wait to start racing and see how we do.

TPV: Why did you decide to attend the University of Virginia?

CLC: Deciding on colleges was a really hard choice for me. I was verbally committed to go to [University of California] Berkeley until May, when I heard back from Virginia and learned that I got in. I went on my official visit and just loved the school. It’s a great mix of academics and athletics, and everyone here really embodies the “work hard, play hard” mentality. I also have the option to transfer into the engineering school and study mechanical engineering here, whereas it would’ve been nearly impossible at Berkeley.

TPV: What has been your favorite part of collegiate rowing? Have there been any standout moments on the water?

CLC: My favorite part of collegiate rowing is how dedicated the whole team is. Almost everyone I’ve talked to wants to try out for the U23 or Olympic team. I also like the perks. Since we’re an NCAA recognized sport, we get a lot of stuff. The biggest thing we get is priority scheduling. That’s a big deal when you’re at a school of 15,000 kids. My standout moment I think was the first time I coxed on the water here. I was given the varsity eight and expectations were pretty low. The girls in the boat and the coaches were impressed by the end of practice and realized that I actually knew my stuff.

TPV: What are the major differences between high school and collegiate rowing?

CLC: The biggest difference between high school and collegiate rowing is definitely the time commitment and the relationships you have with your teammates. I thought I was spending a lot of time on rowing in high school, especially my senior year when I had to drive 30 minutes to practice, but it’s nothing compared to college. But you also spend less time in class, so I guess it balances out. The relationships you have with the rowers is a lot deeper in college. You spend so much time with each other in and out of practice. Even though I am rooming with a non-athlete, I see these girls all the time. They’re always there for me, and I would drop whatever I’m doing in a second if they needed me.

TPV: Do you have any advice for current Paly/high school athletes?

CLC: Even though you are an athlete, you need to keep your grades up. No matter how good of an athlete you are, coaches will not and cannot recruit you if you have a low GPA and test scores. When you get to college you will also need to keep working hard in school if you want to keep playing.

TPV: Where do you see your rowing career headed?

CLC: I’m going to be coxing at a high performance camp this summer, California Rowing Club in Berkeley. From there, I hope to make the U23 team my third or fourth year. My dream is to go to the Olympics — pretty ambitious, but if I keep working hard, hopefully I’ll make it.